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I WEWT Og^^ ••• feowrf ttfading lor tin' lUiHionm 

"For the first time we have a 
theory which accounts satis- 
factorily for all forms of art 
and all art-forms. . . . One of 
those synoptic works which, 
by bringing together separate 
areas of knowledge, suddenly 
reveal the pattern of reality, 
and give a new meaning to all 
one's piecemeal explora- 
tions." -Herbert Read 

phy. Introduction to 
form. Philosophy in 


born in New York City, of Ger- 
man-born parents. She studied 
for her A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. 
degrees at'Radcliffe College, 
with one sernesler's study at 
the University of Vienna. She 
has (ought ot a number of mo- 
jor universities ond is the ou- 
thor of The Prattice of Phitoso- 
SymbolU logic, and feeling and 
a New Key was originally pub- 

lished by The Harvard University Press. 

A Motor Contribution to Modern Thought 





About This Book 

Few people today, says Susanne Langer, are bom to 
an environment which gives them spiritual support. Even 

as we are conquering nature, there is "little we see in 
nature that is ours." We have lost our life-symbols, and 
our actions no longer have ritual value; this is the most 
disastrous hindrance to the free functioning of the 
human mind. 

For, as Mrs. Langer observes, "... the human brain 
is constantly carrying on a process of symbolic transfor- 
mation" of experience, not as a poor substitute for action, 
but as a basic human need. This concept of symbolic 
transformation strikes a "new key in philosophy." It is a 
new generative idea, variously reflected even in such 
diverse fields as psychoanalysis and symbolic logic. With- 
in it lies the germ of a complete reorientation to life, to 
art, to action. By posing a whole new world of questions 
in this key, Mrs. Langer presents a new world-view in 
which the limits of language do not appear as the last 
limits of rational, meaningful experience, but things in- 
accessible to discursive language have their own forms of 
conception. Her examination of the logic of signs and 
symbols, and her account of what constitutes meaning, 
what characterizes symbols, forms the basis for her fur- 
ther elaboration of the significance of language, ritual, 
myth and music, and the integration of all these elements 
into human mentality. 

Irwin Edman says: "I suspect Mrs. Langer has estab- 
lished a key in terms of which a good deal of philosophy 
these next years may be composed." 


my great Teacher and Friend 

Philosophy in a New Key 

A Study in the Symbolism of 
Reason, Rite, and Art 















THE "new key" in Philosophy is not one which I have 
struck. Other people have struck it, quite clearly and re- 
peatedly. This book purports merely to demonstrate the 
unrecognized fact that it is a new key, and to show how the 
main themes of our thought tend to be transposed into it. 
As every shift of tonality gives a new sense to previous 
passages, so the reorientation of philosophy which is taking 
place in our age bestows new aspects on the ideas and argu- 
ments of the past. Our thinking stems from that past, but 
does not continue it in the ways that were foreseen. Its 
cleavages cut across the old hues, and suddenly bring out 
new motifs that were not felt to be implicit in the premises 
of the schools at all; for it changes the questions of philos- 

The universality of the great key-change in our thinking 
is shown by the fact that its tonic chord could ring true for 
a mind essentially preoccupied with logic, scientific lan- 
guage, and empirical fact, although that chord was actually 
first sounded by thinkers of a very different school. Logic 
and science had indeed prepared the harmony for it, un- 
wittingly; for the study of mathematical "transformations" 
and "projections," the construction of alternative descrip- 
tive systems, etc., had raised the issue of symbolic modes 
and of the variable relationship of form and content. But 
the people who recognized the importance of expressive 
forms for all human understanding were those who saw 
that not only science, but myth, analogy, metaphorical 
thinking, and art are intellectual activities determined by 
"symbolic modes"; and those people were for the most part 
of the idealist school. The relation of art to epistemology 
was first revealed to them through reflection on the phe- 
nomenal character of experience, in the course of the great 
transcendentalist "adventure of ideas" launched by Imman- 
uel Kant. And, even now, practically all serious and pene- 
trating philosophy of art is related somehow to the ideal- 
istic tradition. Most studies of artistic significance, of art 
as a symboUc form and a vehicle of conception, have been 
made in the spirit of post- Kantian metaphysics. 

Yet I do not beUeve an idealistic interpretation of Reality 
is necessary to the recognition of art as a symbolic form. 
Professor Urban speaks of "the assumption that the more 
richly and energetically the human spirit builds its lan- 
guages and symbolisms, the nearer it comes ... to its 
ultimate being and reality," as "the idealistic minimum nec- 

essary for any adequate theory of symbolism." If there be 
such a "Reahty" as the idealists assume, then access to it, 
as to any other intellectual goal, must be through some ade- 
quate symbolism; but 1 cannot see that any access to the 
source or "principle" of man's being is presupposed in the 
logical and psychological study of symbolism itself. We 
need not assume the presence of a transcendental "human 
spirit," if we recognize, for instance, the function of sym- 
bolic transformation as a natural activity, a high form of 
nervous response, characteristic of man among the animals. 
The study of symbol and meaning is a starting-point of 
philosophy, not a derivative from Cartesian, Humean, or 
Kantian premises; and the recognition of its fecundity and 
depth may be reached from various positions, though it is a 
historical fact that the idealists reached it first, and have 
given us the most illuminating literature on non-discursive 
symbolisms — myth, ritual, and art. Their studies, however, 
are so intimately linked with their metaphysical speculations 
that the new key they have struck in philosophy impresses 
one, at first, as a mere modulation within their old strain. 
Its real vitality is most evident when one realizes that even 
studies like the present essay, springing from logical rather 
than from ethical or metaphysical interests, may be actuated 
by the same generative idea, the essentially transformational 
nature of human understanding. 

The scholars to whom 1 owe, directly or indirectly, the 
material of my thoughts represent many schools and even 
many fields of scholarship; and the final expression of those 
thoughts does not always give credit to their influence. The 
writings of the sage to whom this book is dedicated receive 
but scant explicit mention; the same thing holds for the 
works of Ernst Cassirer, that pioneer in the philosophy of 
symbolism, and of Heinrich Schenker, Louis Arnaud Reid, 
Kurt Goldstein, and many others. Sometimes a mere article 
or essay, like Max Kraussold's "Musik und Mythus in ihrem 
Verhaltnis" (Die Musik, 1925), Etienne Rabaud's "Les 
hommes au point de vue biologique" (Journal de Psychol- 
ogic, 1931), Sir Henry Head's "Disorders of Symbolic 
Thinking and Expression" (British Journal of Psychology, 
1920), or Hermann Nohl's Stil und Weltanschauung, can 
give one's thinking a new slant or suddenly organize one's 
scattered knowledge into a significant idea, yet be completely 
swallowed up in the theories it has influenced so that no 
specific reference can be made to it at any particular point 
of their exposition. Inevitably, the philosophical ideas of 
every thinker stem from all he has read as well as all he has 

heard and seen, and if consequently little of his material is 
really original, that only lends his doctrines the continuity 
of an old intellectual heritage. Respectable ancestors, after 
all, are never to be despised. 

Though I cannot acknowledge all my literary debts, I do 
wish to express my thanks to several friends who have given 
me the benefit of their judgment or of their aid: to Miss 
Helen SeweU for the comments of an artist on the whole 
theory of non-discursive symbolism, and especially on chap- 
ters Vin and IX; to Mr. Carl Schorske for his literary criti- 
cism of those same long chapters; to my sister, Mrs. Dunbar, 
for some valuable suggestions; to Mrs. Dan Fenn for read- 
ing the page proofs, and to Miss Theodora Long and my 
son Leonard for their help with the index. Above all I want 
to thank Mrs. Penfield Roberts, who has read the entire 
manuscript, even after every extensive revision, and given 
me not only intellectual help, but the constant moral sup- 
port of enthusiasm and friendship; confirming for me the 
truth of what one lover of the arts, J. M. Thorbum, has 
said — that "all the genuine, deep delight of life is in show- 
ing people the mud-pies you have made; and life is at its 
best when we confidingly recommend our mud-pies to each 
other's sympathetic consideration." 

S. K. L. 

Cambridge, 1941 

I. The New Key 

EVERY ACE in the history of philosophy has its own preoccu- 
pation. Its problems are peculiar to it, not for obvious practical 
reasons — political or social — but for deeper reasons of intel- 
lectual growth. If we look back on the slow formation and 
accumulation of doctrines which mark that history, we may see 
certain groupings of ideas within, it, not by subject-matter, but 
by a subtler common factor which may be called their "tech- 
nique." It is the mode of handling problems, rather than what 
they are about, that assigns them to an age. Their subject-mat- 
ter may be fortuitous, and depend on conquests, discoveries, 
plagues, or governments; their treatment derives from a stead- 
ier source. 

The "technique," or treatment, of a problem begins with its 
first expression as a question. The way a question is asked 
limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it — right 
or wrong — may be given. If we are asked: "Who made the 
world?" we may answer: "God made it," "Chance made it," 
"Love and hate made it," or what you will. We may be right 
or we may be wrong. But if we reply: "Nobody made it," we 
will be accused of trying to be cryptic, smart, or "unsympa- 
thetic." For in this last instance, we have only seemingly given 
an answer; in reality we have rejected the question. The ques- 
tioner feels called upon to repeat his problem. "Then how did 
the world become as it is?" If now we answer: "It has not 
'become' at all," he will be really disturbed. This "answer" 
clearly repudiates the very framework of his thinking, the ori- 
entation of his mind, the basic assumptions he has always 
entertained as common-sense notions about things in general. 
Everything has become what it is; everything has a cause; 
every change must be to some end; the world is a thing, and 
must have been made by some agency, out of some original 
stuff, for some reason. These are natural ways of thinking. 
Such implicit "ways" are not avowed by the average man, but 
simply followed. He is not conscious of assuming any basic 
principles. They are what a German would call his "Weltan- 
schauung," his attitude of mind, rather than specific articles of 
faith. They constitute his outlook; they are deeper than facts 
he may note or propositions he may moot. 

But, though they are not stated, they find expression in the 
forms of his questions. A question is really an ambiguous 



proposition; the answer is its determination.' There can be 
only a certain number of alternatives that will complete its 
sense. In this way the intellectual treatment of any datum, any 
experience, any subject, is determined by the nature of our 
questions, and only carried out in the answers. 

In philosophy this disposition of problems is the most im- 
portant thing that a school, a movement, or an age contributes. 
This is the "genius" of a great philosophy; in its light, sys- 
tems arise and rule and die. Therefore a philosophy is char- 
acterized more by the formulation of its problems than by its 
solution of them. Its answers establish an edifice of facts; but 
its questions make the frame in which its picture of facts is 
plotted. They make more than the frame; they give the angle 
of perspective, the palette, the style in which the picture is 
drawn — everything except the subject. In our questions lie our 
principles of analysis, and our answers may express whatever 
those principles are able to yield. 

There is a passage in Whitehead's Science and the Modem 
World, setting forth this predetermination of thought, which 
is at once its scaffolding and its limit. "When you are criti- 
cizing the philosophy of an epoch," Professor Whitehead says, 
"do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual posi- 
tions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. 
There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents 
of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously pre- 
suppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do 
not know what they are assuming because no other way of put- 
ting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions 
a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are 
possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy 
of the epoch." ^ 

Some years ago. Professor C. D. Burns published an excel- 
lent little article called "The Sense of the Horizon," in which 
he made a somewhat wider application of the same principle; 
for here he pointed out that every civilization has its limits of 
knowledge — of perceptions, reactions, feelings, and ideas. To 
quote his own words, "The experience of any moment has its 
horizon. Today's experience, which is not tomorrow's, has in 
it some hints and implications which are tomorrow on the 
horizon of today. Each man's experience may be added to by 
the experience of other men, who are living in his day or have 

ICf. Felix Cohen. "What is a Question?" ne Monist, XXXIX (1929), 3: 

From Chapter III: The Century of Genius. By permission of Hie Macmillan 
Company, publishers. 



lived before; and so a common world of experience, larger 
than that of his own observation, can be lived in by each man. 
But however wide it may be, that common world also has its 
horizon; and on that horizon new experience is always ap- 
pearing. . . ."^ 

"Philosophers in every age have attempted to give an ac- 
count of as much experience as they could. Some have indeed 
pretended that what they could not explain did not exist; but 
all the great philosophers have allowed for more than they 
could explain, and have, therefore, signed beforehand, if not 
dated, the death-warrant of their philosophies." 

". . . The history of Western philosophy begins in a period 
in which the sense of the horizons lifts men's eyes from the 
myths and rituals, the current beliefs and customs of the Greek 
tradition in Asia Minor. ... In a settled civilization, the 
regularity of natural phenomena and their connection over 
large areas of experience became significant. The myths were 
too disconnected; but behind them lay the conception of Fate. 
This perhaps provided Thales and the other early philosophers 
with the first hint of the new formulation, which was an at- 
tempt to allow for a larger scale of certainty in the current 
attitude toward the world. From this point of view the early 
philosophers are conceived to have been not so much disturbed 
by the contradictions in the tradition as attracted by certain 
factors on the horizon of experience, of which their tradition 
gave no adequate account. They began the new formulation in 
order to include the new factors, and they boldly said that 
'air was water or 'all' was in flux." ' 

The formulation of experience which is contained within 
the intellectual horizon of an age and a society is determined, 
I believe, not so much by events and desires, as by the basic 
concepts at people's disposal for analyzing and describing 
their adventures to their own understanding. Of course, such 
concepts arise as they are needed, to deal with poUtical or 
domestic experience; but the same experiences could be seen 
in many different lights, so the light in which they do appear 
depends on the genius of a people as well as on the demands 
of the external occasion. Different minds will take the same 
events in very different ways. A tribe of Congo Negroes will 
react quite differently to (say) its first introduction to the 
story of Christ's passion, than did the equally untutored de- 

3 Philosophy, VIII (1933), 31: 301-317. This preliminary essay was followed 
by his book. The Horizon of Experience (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1934). 
See p. 301. 

S "The Sense offittfc Horizon," pp. 3(}5>304. 306-307. 



scendants of Norsemen, or the American Indians. Every so- 
ciety meets a new idea with its own concepts, its own tacit, 
fundamental way of seeing things; that is to say, with its own 
questions, its peculiar curiosity. 

The horizon to which Professor Burns makes reference is 
the limit of clear and sensible questions that we can ask. When 
the Ionian philosophers, whom he cites as the innovators of 
Greek thought, asked what "aU" was made of, or how "all" 
matter behaved, they were assuming a general notion, namely 
that of a parent substance, a final, universal matter to which 
all sorts of accidents could happen. This notion dictated the 
terms of their inquiries: what things were, and how they 
changed. Problems of right and wrong, of wealth and poverty, 
slavery and freedom, were beyond their scientific horizon. On 
these matters they undoubtedly adopted the wordless, uncon- 
scious attitudes dictated by social usage. The concepts that 
preoccupied them had no application in those realms, and 
therefore did not give rise to new, interesting, leading ques- 
tions about social or moral affairs. 

Professor Burns regards all Greek thought as one vast for- 
mulation of experience. "In spite of continual struggles with 
violent reversals in conventional habits and in the use of 
words," he says, "work upon the formulation of Greek ex- 
perience culminated in the magnificent doctrines of Plato and 
Aristotle. Both had their source in Socrates. He had turned 
from the mere assertions of the earlier philosophers to the 
question of the validity of any assertion at all. Not what the 
world was but how one could know what it was, and therefore 
what one could know about one's self seemed to him to be the 
fundamental question. . . . The formulation begun by Thales 
was completed by Aristotle." ^ 

I think the historical continuity and compactness of Hel- 
lenic civilization influences this judgment. Certainly between 
Thales and the Academy there is at least one further shift of 
the horizon, namely with the advent of the Sophists. The 
questions Socrates asked were as new to Greek thought in his 
day as those of Thales and Anaximenes had been to their 
earlier age. Socrates did not continue and complete Ionian 
thought; he cared very little about the speculative physics that 
was the very breath of life to the nature-philosophers, and his 
lifework did not further that ancient enterprise by even a step. 
He had not new answers, but new questions, and therewith he 
brought a new conceptual framework, an entirely different 

6 Ibid., p. 307. 



perspective, into Greek philosophy. His problems had arisen 
in the law-courts and the Sophists' courses of oratory; they 
were, in the main, and in their significant features, irrelevant 
to the academic tradition. The validity of knowledge was only 
one of his new puzzles; the value of knowing, the purpose of 
science, of political life, practical arts, and finally of the course 
of nature, all became problematical to him. For he was operat- 
ing with a new idea. Not prime matter and its disguises, its 
virtual products, its laws of change and its ultimate identity, 
constituted the terms of his discourse, but the notion of value. 
That everything had a value was too obvious to require state- 
ment. It was so obvious that the lonians had not even given it 
one thought, and Socrates did not bother to state it: but his 
questions centered on what values things had — whether they 
were good or evil, in themselves or in their relations to other 
things, for all men or for few, or for the gods alone. In the 
light of that newly-enlisted old concept, value, a whole world 
of new questions opened up. The philosophical horizon wid- 
ened in all directions at once, as horizons do with every up- 
ward step. 

The limits of thought are not so much set from outside, by 
the fullness or poverty of experiences that meet the mind, as 
from within, by the power of conception, the wealth of formu- 
lative notions with which the mind meets experiences. Most 
new discoveries are suddenly-seen things that were always 
there. A new idea is a light that illuminates presences which 
simply had no form for us before the light fell on them. We 
turn the light here, there, and everywhere, and the limits of 
thought recede before it. A new science, a new art, or a young 
and vigorous system of philosophy, is generated by such a 
basic innovation. Such ideas as identity of matter and change 
of form, or as value, validity, virtue, or as outer world and 
inner consciousness, are not theories; they are the terms in 
which theories are conceived; they give rise to specific ques- 
tions, and are articulated only in the form of these questions. 
Therefore one may call them generative ideas in the history 
of thought. 

A tremendous philosophical vista opened when Thales, or 
perhaps one of his predecessors not known to us, asked: 
"What is the world made of?" For centuries men turned their 
eyes upon the changes of matter, the problem of growth and 
decay, the laws of transformation in nature. When the possi- 
bilities of that primitive science were exhausted, speculations 
deadlocked, and the many alternative answers were stored in 



every learned mind to its confusion, Socrates propounded iiis 
simple and disconcerting questions — not, "Which answer is 
true?" but: "What is Truth?" "What is Knowledge, and why 
do we want to acquire it?" His questions were disconcerting 
because they contained the new principle of explanation, the 
notion of value. Not to describe the motion and matter of a 
thing, but to see its purpose, is to understand it. From this 
conception a host of new inquiries were born. What is the 
highest good of man? Of the universe? What are the proper 
principles of art, education, government, medicine? To what 
purpose do planets and heavens revolve, animals procreate, em- 
pires rise? Wherefore does man have hands and eyes and the 
gift of language? 

To the physicists, eyes and hands were no more interesting 
than sticks and stones. They were all just varieties of Prime 
Matter. The Socratic conception of purpose went beyond the 
old physical notions in that it gave importance to the differ- 
ences between men's hands and other "mixtures of elements." 
Socrates was ready to accept tradition on the subject of ele- 
ments, but asked in his turn: "Why are we made of fire and 
water, earth and air? Why have we passions, and a dream of 
Truth? Why do we live? Why do we die?"— Plato's ideal 
commonwealth and Aristotle's science rose in reply. But no 
one stopped to explain what "ultimate good" or "purpose" 
meant; these were the generative ideas of all the new, vital, 
philosophical problems, the measures of explanation, and be- 
longed to common sense. 

The end of a philosophical epoch comes with the exhaustion 
of its motive concepts. When all answerable questions that 
can be formulated in its terms have been exploited, we are left 
with only those problems that are sometimes called "metaphysi- 
cal" in a slurring sense — insoluble problems whose very 
statement harbors a paradox. The peculiarity of such pseudo- 
questions is that they are capable of two or more equally good 
answers, which defeat each other. An answer once propounded 
wins a certain number of adherents who subscribe to it despite 
the fact that other people have shown conclusively how wrong 
or inadequate it is; since its rival solutions suffer from the 
same defect, a choice among them really rests on tempera- 
mental grounds. They are not intellectual discoveries, like 
good answers to appropriate questions, but doctrines. At this 
point philosophy becomes academic; its watchword henceforth 
is Refutation, its life is argument rather than private thinking, 
fair-mindedness is deemed more important than single-mind- 



edness, and the whole center of gravity shifts from actual 
philosophical isues to peripheral subjects — methodology, 
mental progress, the philosopher's place in society, and apolo- 

The eclectic period in Greco-Roman philosophy was just 
such a tag-end of an inspired epoch. People took sides on old 
questions instead of carrying suggested ideas on to their 
further implications. They sought a reasoned belief, not new 
things to think about. Doctrines seemed to lie around all ready- 
made, waiting to be adopted or rejected, or perhaps dissected 
and recombined in novel aggregates. The consolations of 
philosophy were more in the spirit of that time than the dis- 
turbing whispers of a Socratic daemon. 

Yet the human mind is always active. When philosophy lies 
fallow, other fields bring abundance of fruit. The end of 
Hellenism was the beginning of Christianity, a period of deep" 
emotional life, military and political enterprise, rapid civiliza- 
tion of barbarous hordes, possession of new lands. Wild north- 
ern Europe was opened to the Mediterranean world. Of course 
the old cultural interests flagged, and old concepts paled, in 
the face of such activity, novelty, and bewildering challenge. 
A footloose, capricious modernity took the place of deep- 
rooted philosophical thought. All the strength of good minds 
was consumed by the practical and moral problems of the day, 
and metaphysics seemed a venerable but bootless refinement of 
rather sheltered, educated people, a peculiar and lonely amus- 
ment of old-fashioned scholars. It took several centuries be- 
fore the great novelties became an established order, the 
emotional fires burned themselves out, the modern notions 
matured to something like permanent principles; then natural 
curiosity turned once more toward these principles of life, 
and sought their essence, their inward ramifications, and the 
grounds of their security. Interpretations of doctrines and 
commandments became more and more urgent. But interpreta- 
tion of general propositions is nothing more nor less than 
philosophy; and so another vital age of Reason began. 

The wonderful flights of imagination and feeling inspired 
by the rise and triumph of Christianity, the questions to which 
its profound revolutionary attitude gave rise, provided for 
nearly a thousand years of philosophical growth, beginning 
with the early Church Fathers and culminating in the great 
Scholastics. But, at last, its generative ideas — sin and salvation, 
nature and grace, unity, infinity, and kingdom — had done 
their work. Vast systems of thought had been formulated, and 



all relevant problems had been mooted. Then came the un- 
answerable puzzles, the paradoxes that always mark the limit 
of what a generative idea, an intellectual vision, will do. The 
exhausted Christian mind rested its case, and philosophy be 
came a reiteration and ever- weakening justification of faith. 

Again "pure thought" appeared as a jejune and academic 
business. History teachers like to tell us that learned men in 
the Middle Ages would solemnly discuss how many angels 
could dance on the point of a needle. Of course that question, 
and others like it, had perfectly respectable deeper meanings — 
in this case the answer hinged on the material or immaterial 
nature of angels (if they were incorporeal, then an infinite 
number of them could occupy a dimensionless point). Yet 
such problems, ignorantly or maliciously misunderstood, un- 
doubtedly furnished jokes in the banquet hall when they were 
still seriously propounded in the classroom. The fact that the 
average person who heard them did not try to understand 
them but regarded them as cryptic inventions of an academic 
class — "too deep for us," as our Man in the Street would say 
— shows that the issues of metaphysical speculation were no 
longer vital to the general literate public. Scholastic thought 
was gradually suffocating under the pressure of new interests, 
new emotions — the crowding modern ideas and artistic inspira- 
tion we call the Renaissance. 

After several centuries of sterile tradition, logic-chopping, 
and partisanship in philosophy, the wealth of nameless, hereti- 
cal, often inconsistent notions born of the Renaissance crystal- 
lized into general and ultimate problems. A new outlook on 
life challenged the human mind to make sense out of its be- 
wildering world; and the Cartesian age of "natural and mental 
philosophy" succeeded to the realm. 

This new epoch had a mighty and revolutionary generative 
idea; the dichotomy of all reality into inner experience and 
outer world, subject and object, private reality and public 
truth. The very language of what is now traditional epistemol- 
ogy betrays this basic notion; when we speak of the "given," 
of "sense-data," "the phenomenon," or "otiier selves," we take 
for granted the immediacy of an internal experience and the 
continuity of the external world. Our fundamental questions 
are framed in these terms: What is actually given to the mind ? 
What guarantees the truth of sense-data? What lies behind 
the observable order of phenomena? What is the relation of 
the mind to the brain? How can we know other selves? — All 
these are familiar problems of today. Their answers have been 



elaborated into whole systems of thought: empiricism, ideal- 
ism, realism, phenomenology, Existenz-Philosophie, and logical 
positivism. The most complete and characteristic of all these doc- 
trines are the earliest ones: empiricism and idealism. They are 
the full, unguarded, vigorous formulations of the new genera- 
tive notion, experience; their proponents were the enthusiasts 
inspired by the Cartesian method, and their doctrines are the 
obvious implications derived by that principle, from such a 
starting-point. Each school in its turn took the intellectual 
world by storm. Not only the universities, but all literary cir- 
cles, felt the liberation from time-worn, oppressive concepts, 
from baffling limits of inquiry, and hailed the new world-pic- 
ture with a hope of truer orientation in life, art, and action. 

After a while the confusions and shadows inherent in the 
new vision became apparent, and subsequent doctrines sought 
in various ways to escape between the horns of the dilemma 
created by the subject-object dichotomy, which Professor 
Whitehead has called "the bifurcation of nature." Since then, 
our theories have become more and more refined, circumspect, 
and clever; no one can be quite frankly an idealist, or go the 
whole way with empiricism; the early forms of realism are 
now known as the "naive" varieties, and have been superseded 
by "critical" or "new" realisms. Many philosophers vehe- 
mently deny any systematic Weltanschauung, and repudiate 
metaphysics in principle. 

The springs of philosophical thought have run dry once 
more. For fifty years at least, we have witnessed all the char- 
acteristic symptoms that mark the end of an epoch — the in- 
corporation of thought in more and more variegated "isms," 
the clamor of their respective adherents to be heard and 
judged side by side, the defense of philosophy as a respectable 
and important pursuit, the increase of congresses and sym- 
posia, and a flood of text-criticism, surveys, popularizations, 
and collaborative studies. The educated layman does not 
pounce upon a new philosophy book as people pounced upon 
Leviathan or the great Critiques or even The World as Will 
and Idea. He does not expect enough intellectual news from 
a college professor. What he expects is, rather, to be argued 
into accepting idealism or realism, pragmatism or irrational- 
ism, as his own belief. We have arrived once more at that 
counsel of despair, to find a reasoned faith. 

But the average person who has any faith does not really 
care whether it is reasoned or not. He uses reason only to sat- 
isfy his curiosity — and philosophy, at present, does not even 



arouse, let alone satisfy, his curiosity. It only confuses him 
with impractical puzzles. The reason is not that he is dull, or 
really too busy (as he says he is) to enjoy philosophy. It is 
simply that the generative ideas of the seventeenth century — 
"the century of genius," Professor Whitehead calls it — have 
served their term. The difficulties inherent in their constitutive 
concepts balk us now; their paradoxes clog our thinking. If 
we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole world 
of new questions. 

Meanwhile, the dying philosophical epoch is eclipsed by a 
tremendously active age of science and technology. The roots 
of our scientific thinking reach far back, through the whole 
period of subjective philosophy, further back than any ex- 
plicit empiricism, to the brilliant, extravert genius of the 
Renaissance. Modern science is often said to have sprung from 
empiricism; but Hobbes and Locke have given us no physics, 
and Bacon, who expressed the scientists' creed to perfection, 
was neither an active philosopher nor a scientist; he was essen- 
tially a man of letters and a critic of current thought. The 
only philosphy that rose directly out of a contemplation of 
science is positivism, and it is probably the least interesting 
of all doctrines, an appeal to commonsense against the diffi- 
culties of establishing metaphysical or logical "first prin- 

Genuine empiricism is above all a reflection on the validity 
of sense-knowledge, a speculation on the ways our concepts 
and beliefs are built up out of the fleeting and disconnected 
reports our eyes and ears actually make to the mind. Posi- 
tivism, the scientists' metaphysic, entertains no such doubts, 
and raises no epistemological problems; its belief in the 
veracity of sense is implicit and dogmatic. Therefore it is 
really out of the running with post-Cartesian philosophy. It 
repudiates the basic problems of epistemology, and creates 
nothing but elbow-room for laboratory work. The very fact 
that it rejects problems, not answers, shows that the growing 
physical sciences were geared to an entirely different outlook 
on reality. They had their own so-called "working notions"; 
and the strongest of these was the concept of fact. 

This central concept effected the rapprochement between 
science and empiricism, despite the latter's subjective tend- 
encies. No matter what problems may lurk in vision and hear- 
ing, there is something final about the guarantees of sense. 
Sheer observation is hard to contradict, for sense-data have an 
inalienable semblance of "fact." And such a court of last 


appeal, where verdicts are quick and ultimate, was exactly 
what scientists needed if their vast and complicated work was 
to go forward. Epistemology might produce intriguing puz- 
zles, but it could never furnish facts for conviction to rest 
upon. A naive faith in sense-evidence, on the other hand, pro- 
vided just such terminals to thought. Facts are something we 
can all observe, identify, and hold in common; in the last re- 
sort, seeing is believing. And science, as against philosophy, 
even in that eager and active philosophical age, professed to 
look exclusively to the visible world for its unquestioned 

The results were astounding enough to lend the new atti- 
tude full force. Despite the objections of philosophical think- 
ers, despite the outcry of moralists and theologians against the 
"crass materialism" and "sensationalism" of the scientists, 
physical science grew like Jack's beanstalk, and overshadowed 
everything else that human thought produced to rival it. A 
passion for observation displaced the scholarly love of learned 
dispute, and quickly developed the experimental technique 
that kept humanity supplied thrice over with facts. Practical 
applications of the new mechanical knowledge soon popular- 
ized and established it beyond the universities. Here the tra- 
ditional interests of philosophy could not follow it any more; 
for they had become definitely relegated to that haven of un- 
popular lore, the schoolroom. No one really cared much about 
consistency or definition of terms, about precise conceptions, or 
formal deduction. The senses, long despised and attributed to 
the interesting but improper domain of the devil, were recog- 
nized as man's most valuable servants, and were rescued from 
their classical disgrace to wait on him in his new venture. 
They were so efficient that they not only supplied the human 
mind with an incredible amount of food for thought, but 
seemed presently to have most of its cognitive business in 
hand. Knowledge from sensory experience was deemed the 
only knowledge that carried any affidavit of truth; for truth 
became identified, for all vigorous modern minds, with em- 
pirical fact. 

And so, a scientific culture succeeded to the exhausted 
philosophical vision. An undisputed and uncritical empiri- 
cism — not skeptical, but positivistic — became its official meta- 
physical creed, experiment its avowed method, a vast hoard of 
"data" its capital, and correct prediction of future occurrences 
its proof. The programmatic account of this great adventure, 
beautifully put forth in Bacon's Novum Organum, was fol- 



lowed only a few centuries later by the complete, triumphant 
summary of all that was scientifically respectable, in J. S. 
Mill's Canons of Induction — a sort of methodological mani- 

As the physical world-picture grew and technology ad- 
vanced, those disciplines which rested squarely on "rational" 
instead of "empirical" principles were threatened with com- 
plete extinction, and were soon denied even the honorable 
name of science. Logic and metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics, 
seemed to have seen their day. One by one the various branches 
of philosophy — natural, mental, social, or religious — set up 
as autonomous sciences; the natural ones with miraculous suc- 
cess, the humanistic ones with more hope and fanfare than 
actual achievement. The physical sciences found their stride 
without much hesitation; psychology and sociology tried hard 
and seriously to "catch the tune and keep the step," but with 
mathematical laws they were never really handy. Psychologists 
have probably spent almost as much time and type avowing 
their empiricism, their factual premises, their experimental 
techniques, as recording experiments and making general in- 
ductions. They still tell us that their lack of laws and calculable 
results is due to the fact that psychology is but young. When 
physics was as old as psychology is now, it was a definite, sys- 
tematic body of highly general facts, and the possibilities of 
its future expansion were clearly visible in every line of its 
natural progress. It could say of itself, like Topsy, "I wasn't 
made, 1 growed." But our scientific psychology is made in the 
laboratory, and especially in the methodological forum. A good 
deal has, indeed, been made; but the synthetic organism still 
does not grow like a wild plant; its technical triumphs are apt 
to be discoveries in physiology or chemistry instead of psycho- 
logical "facts." 

Theology, which could not possibly submit to scientific 
methods, has simply been crowded out of the intellectual arena 
and gone into retreat in the cloistered libraries of its semi- 
naries. As for logic, once the very model and norm of science, 
its only salvation seemed to lie in repudiating its most precious 
stock-in-trade, the "clear and distinct ideas," and professing 
to argue only from empirical facts to equally factual implica- 
tions. The logician, once an investor in the greatest enterprise 
of human thought, found himself reduced to a sort of railroad 
linesman, charged with the task of keeping the tracks and 
switches of scientific reasoning clear for sensory reports to 
make their proper cormections. Logic, it seemed, could never 



have a lite of its own; for it liad no foundation of facts, ex- 
cept tiie psycfiological fact that we do think thus and so, that 
such-and-such forms of argument lead to correct or incorrect 
predictions of further experience, and so forth. Logic became 
a mere reflection on tried and useful methods of fact-finding, 
and an official warrant for that technically fallacious process of 
generalizing known as "induction." 

Yes, the heyday of science has stifled and killed our rather 
worn-out philosophical interests, born three and a half cen- 
turies ago from that great generative idea, the bifurcation of 
nature into an inner and an outer world. To the generations 
of Comte, Mill, and Spencer, it certainly seemed as though 
all human knowledge could be cast in the new mold; certainly 
as though nothing in any other mold covild hope to jell. And 
indeed, nothing much has jelled in any other mold; but 
neither have the non-physical disciplines been able to adopt 
and thrive on the scientific methods that did such wonders 
for physics and its obvious derivatives. The truth is that sci- 
ence has not really fructified and activated all human thought. 
If humanity has really passed the philosophical stage of learn- 
ing, as Comte hopefully declared, and is evolving no more 
fantastic ideas, then we have certainly left many interesting 
brain-children stillborn along the way. 

But the mind of man is always fertile, ever creating and 
discarding, like the earth. There is always new life under old 
decay. Last year's dead leaves hide not merely the seeds, but 
the full-fledged green plants of this year's spring, ready to 
bloom almost as soon as they are uncovered. It is the same 
with the seasons of civilization: under cover of a weary Greco- 
Roman eclecticism, a baffled cynicism, Christianity grew to its 
conquering force of conception and its clear interpretation of 
life; obscured by creed, canon, and curriculum, by learned 
disputation and demonstration, was born the great ideal of 
personal experience, the "rediscovery of the inner life," as 
Rudolph Eucken termed it, that was to inspire philosophy 
from Descartes's day to the end of German idealism. And be- 
neath our rival "isms," our methodologies, conferences, and 
symposia, of course there is something brewing, too. 

No one observed, amid the first passion of empirical fact- 
finding, that the ancient science of mathematics still went its 
undisturbed way of pure reason. It fell in so nicely with the 
needs of scientific thought, it fitted the observed world of 
fact so neatly, that those who learned and used it never stopped 
to accuse those who had invented and evolved it of being 



mere reasoners, and lacking tangible data. Yet the few con- 
scientious empiricists who thought that factual bases must be 
established for mathematics made a notoriously poor job of it. 
Few mathematicians have really held that numbers were dis- 
covered by observation, or even that geometrical relationships 
are known to us by inductive reasoning from many observed 
instances. Physicists may think of certain facts in place of 
constants and variables, but the same constants and variables 
will serve somewhere else to calculate other facts, and the 
mathematicians themselves give no set of data their prefer- 
ence. They deal only with items whose sensory qualities are 
quite irrelevant: their "data" are arbitrary sounds or marks 
called symbols. 

Behind these symbols lie the boldest, purest, coolest ab- 
stractions mankind has ever made. No schoolman speculating 
on essences and attributes ever approached anything like the 
abstractness of algebra. Yet those same scientists who prided 
themselves on their concrete factual knowledge, who claimed 
to reject every proof except empirical evidence, never hesitated 
to accept the demonstrations and calculations, the bodiless, 
sometimes avowedly "fictitious" entities of the mathemati- 
cians. Zero and infinity, square roots of negative numbers, in- 
commensurable lengths and fourth dimensions, all found un- 
questioned welcome in the laboratory, when the average 
thoughtful layman, who could still take an invisible soul-sub- 
stance on faith, doubted their logical respectability. 

What is the secret power of mathematics, to win hard- 
headed empiricists, against their most ardent beliefs, to its 
purely rational speculations and intangible "facts" ? Mathema- 
ticians are rarely practical people, or good observers of events. 
They are apt to be cloistered souls, like philosophers and theo- 
logians. Why are their abstractions taken not only seriously, 
but as indispensable, fundamental facts, by men who observe 
the stars or experiment with chemical compounds ? 

The secret lies in the fact that a mathematician does not 
profess to say anything about the existence, reality, or efficacy 
of things at all. His concern is the possibility of symbolizing 
things, and of symbolizing the relations into which they might 
enter with each other. His "entities" are not "data," but con- 
cepts. That is why such elements as "imaginary numbers" and 
"infinite decimals" are tolerated by scientists to whom invisible 
agents, powers, and "principles" are anathema. Mathematical 
constructions are only symbols; they have meanings in terms 
of relationships, not of substance; something in reality an- 



swers to them, but they are not supposed to be items in that 
reaUty. To the true mathematician, numbers do not "inhere in" 
denumerable things, nor do circular objects "contain" degrees. 
Numbers and degrees and all their ilk only mean the real 
properties of real objects. It is entirely at the discretion of the 
scientist to say, "Let x mean this, let y mean that." All that 
mathematics determines is that then x and y must be related 
thus and thus. If experience belies the conclusion, then the 
formula does not express the relation of this x and that y; 
then X and y may not mean this thing and that. But no mathe- 
matician in his professional capacity will ever tell us that this 
is X, and has therefore such and such properties. 

The faith of scientists in the power and truth of mathe- 
matics is so implicit that their work has gradually become less 
and less observation, and more and more calculation. The 
promiscuous collection and tabulation of data have given way 
to a process of assigning possible meanings, merely supposed 
real entities, to mathematical terms, working out the logical 
results, and then staging certain crucial experiments to check 
the hypothesis against the actual, empirical results. But the 
facts which are accepted by virtue of these tests are not actually 
observed at all. With the advance of mathematical technique 
in physics, the tangible results of experiment have become 
less and less spectacular; on the other hand, their significance 
has grown in inverse proportion. The men in the laboratory 
have departed so far from the old forms of experimentation — 
typified by Galileo's weights and Franklin's kite — that they 
cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at 
all; instead, they are watching index needles, revolving drums, 
and sensitive plates. No psychology of "association" of sense- 
experiences can relate these data to the objects they signify, 
for in most cases the objects have never been experienced. Ob- 
servation has become almost entirely indirect; and readings 
take the place of genuine witness. The sense-data on which 
the propositions of modem science rest are, for the most part, 
little photographic spots and blurs, or inky curved lines on 
paper. These data are empirical enough, but of course they 
are not themselves the phenomena in question; the actual 
phenomena stand behind them as their supposed causes. In- 
stead of watching the process that interests us, that is to be 
verified — say, a course of celestial events, or the behavior of 
such objects as molecules and ether-waves — we really see only 
the fluctuations of a tiny arrow, the trailing path of a stylus, 
or the appearance of a speck of light, and calculate to the 



"facts" of our science. What is directly observable is only a 
sign of the "physical fact"; it requires interpretation to yield 
scientific propositions. Not simply seeing is believing, but see- 
ing and calculating, seeing and translating. 

This is bad, of course, for a thoroughgoing empiricism. 
Sense-data certainly do not make up the whole, or even the 
major part, of a scientist's material. The events that are given 
for his inspection could be "faked" in a dozen ways — that is, 
the same visible events could be made to occur, but with a 
different significance. We may at any time be wrong about 
their significance, even where no one is duping us; we may be 
nature's fools. Yet if we did not attribute an elaborate, purely 
reasoned, and hypothetical history of causes to the little shiv- 
ers and wiggles of our apparatus, we really could not record 
them as momentous results of experiment. The problem of 
observation is all but eclipsed by the problem of meaning. And 
the triumph of empiricism in science is jeopardized by the sur- 
prising truth that our sense-data are primarily symbols. 

Here, suddenly, it becomes apparent that the age of science 
has begotten a new philosophical issue, inestimably more pro- 
found than its original empiricism: for in all quietness, along 
purely rational lines, mathematics has developed just as bril- 
liantly and vitally as any experimental technique, and, step by 
step, has kept abreast of discovery and observation; and ail at ' 
once, the edifice of human knowledge stands before us, not 
as a vast collection of sense reports, but as a structure of facts 
that are symbols and laws that are their meanings. A new 
philosophical theme has been set forth to a coming age: an 
epistemological theme, the comprehension of science. The 
power of symboUsm is its cue, as the finality of sense-data 
was the cue of a former epoch. 

In epistemology — really all that is left of a worn-out philo- 
sophical heritage — a new generative idea has dawned. Its 
power is hardly recognized yet, but if we look at the actual 
trend of thought — always the surest index to a general pros- 
pect — the growing preoccupation with that new theme is quite 
apparent. One needs only to look at the titles of some philo- 
sophical books that have appeared within the last fifteen or 
twenty years: The Meaning of Meaning; ' Symbolism and 
Truth;^ Die Philosophie der symbolischen Formen:^ Lan- 
guage, Truth and Logic; Symbol und Existenz der Wissen- 

7C. K. Osden and I. A. Richards (London. 1923). 

Ralph Munroe Eaton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. 1925). 
9Ernst Cassirer, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1923, 1924, 1929) 
10 A. J. Ayer (London. 1936). 


schaft;'' The Logical Syntax of Language Philosophy and 
Logical Syntax; Meaning and Change of Meaning; Sym- 
bolism: its Meaning and Effects; Foundations of the Theory 
of Signs ;^'' Seek als Ausserung:^^ La pensee concrete: essai 
sur le symbolisme intellectuel; Zeichen, die Fundamente 
des Wissens; and recently, Language and Reality?" The 
list is not nearly exhaustive. There are many books whose 
titles do not betray a preoccupation with semantic, for in- 
stance Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,^' or 
Grudin's A Primer of Aesthetics^ And were we to take an 
inventory of articles, even on the symbolism of science alone, 
we would soon have a formidable bibliography. 

But it is not only in philosophy proper that the new key- 
note has been struck. There are at least two limited and tech- 
nical fields, which have suddenly been developed beyond all 
prediction, by the discovery of the all-importance of symbol- 
using or symbol-reading. They are widely separate fields, and 
their problems and procedures do not seem to belong together 
in any way at all: one is modern psychology, the other modern 

In the former we are disturbed — thrilled or irritated, ac- 
cording to our temperaments — by the advent of psycho-analy- 
sis. In the latter we witness the rise of a new technique known 
as symbolic logic. The coincidence of these two pursuits seems 
entirely fortuitous; one stems from medicine and the other 
from mathematics, and there is nothing whatever on which 
they would care to compare notes or hold debate. Yet I believe 
they both embody the same generative idea, which is to pre- 
occupy and inspire our philosophical age: for each in its own 
fashion has discovered the power of symbolization. 

They have different conceptions of symbolism and its func- 
tions. Symbolic logic is not "symbolic" in the sense of Freud- 
ian psychology, and The Analysis of Dreams makes no 
contribution to logical syntax. The emphasis on symbolism 
derives from entirely different interests, in their respective 

" H. Noack, Symbol und Exislenz, der Wissenschafi: Untersuchungen zur 
Grundlegung einer ph'dosophischen Wissenschaftslehre (Halle a/S., 1936). 

12 Rudolf Carnap (London, 1935; German ed., Vienna, 1934). 

13 Rudolf Carnap (London. 1935; German ed. 1934). 

14 Gustav Stern (Goteborg, 1931). 

15 A. N. Whitehead (New Yorls: The Macmillan Co., 1927). 
Charles W. Morris (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1938). 

17 Paul Helwig (Leipzig-Berlin, 1936). 18 A. Spaier (Paris, 1927). 
19 R. Gatschenberger (Stuttgart. 1932). 

20 Wilbur M. Urban. Language and Reality; the Philosophy of Language and 
the Principles of Symbolism (London, 1939). 

Ludwig Wittgenstein (London, 1922; 2nd ed. New Yorlc: Harcourt, Brace & 
Co.,,, 1933). 

Louis Grudin (Xew York: Covici Friedr, 1930). 



contexts. As yet, the cautious critic may well regard the one as 
a fantastic experiment of "mental philosophy," and the other 
as a mere fashion in logic and epistemology. 

When we speak of fashions in thought, we are treating 
philosophy lightly. There is disparagement in the phrases, "a 
fashionable problem," "a fashionable term." Yet it is the most 
natural and appropriate thing in the world for a new problem 
or a new terminology to have a vogue that crowds out every- 
thing else for a little while. A word that everyone snaps up, 
or a question that has everybody excited, probably carries a 
generative idea — the germ of a complete reorientation in 
metaphysics, or at least the "Open Sesame" of some new posi- 
tive science. The sudden vogue of such a key-idea is due to 
the fact that all sensitive and active minds turn at once to ex- 
ploiting it; we try it in every connection, for every purpose, 
experiment with possible stretches of its strict meaning, with 
generalizations and derivatives. When we become familiar with 
the new idea our expectations do not outrun its actual uses 
quite so far, and then its unbalanced popularity is over. We 
settle down to the problems that it has really generated, and 
these become the characteristic issues of our time. 

The rise of technology is the best possible proof that the 
basic concepts of physical science, which have ruled our think- 
ing for nearly two centuries, are essentially sound. They have 
begotten knowledge, practice, and systematic understanding; 
no wonder they have given us a very confident and definite. 
Weltanschauung, They have delivered all physical nature into 
our hands. But strangely enough, the so-called "mental sci- 
ences" have gained very little from the great adventure. One 
attempt after another has failed to apply the concept of causal- 
ity to logic and aesthetics, or even sociology and psychology. 
Causes and effects could be found, of course, and could be 
correlated, tabulated, and studied; but even in psychology, 
where the study of stimulus and reaction has been carried to 
elaborate lengths, no true science has resulted. No prospects of 
really great achievement have opened before us in the labora- 
tory. If we follow the methods of natural science our psychol- 
ogy tends to run into physiology, histology, and genetics; we 
move further and further away from those problems which we 
ought to be approaching. That signifies that the generative idea 
which gave rise to physics and chemistry and all their progeny 
— technology, medicine, biology — does not contain any vivify- 
ing concept for the humanistic sciences. The physicist's 
scheme, so faithfully emulated by generations of psychologists, 



epistemologists, and aestheticians, is probably blocking their 
progress, defeating possible insights by its prejudicial force. 
The scheme is not false — it is perfectly reasonable - but it is 
bootless for the study of mental phenomena. It does not en- 
gender leading questions and excite a constructive imagina- 
tion, as it does in physical researches. Instead of a method, it 
inspires a militant methodology. 

Now, in those very regions of human interest where the 
age of empiricism has caused no revolution, the preoccupation 
with symbols has come into fashion. It has not sprung directly 
from any canon of science. It runs at least two distinct and 
apparently incompatible courses. Yet each course is a river of 
life in its own field, each fructifies its own harvest; and in- 
stead of finding mere contradiction in the wide difference of 
forms and uses to which this new generative idea is put, I see 
in it a promise of power and versatility, and a commanding 
philosophical problem. One conception of symbolism leads to 
logic, and meets the new problems in theory of knowledge; 
and so it inspires an evalution of science and a quest for cer- 
tainty. The other takes us in the opposite direction — to psychi- 
atry, the study of emotions, religion, fantasy, and everything 
but knowledge. Yet in both we have a central theme: the 
human response, as a constructive, not a passive thing. Episte- 
mologists and psychologists agree that symbolization is the key 
to that constructive process, though they may be ready to kill 
each other over the issue of what a symbol is and how it func- 
tions. One studies the structure of science, the other of dreams; 
each has his own assumptions — that is all they are — regarding 
the nature of symbolism itself. Assumptions, generative ideas, 
are what we fight for. Our conclusions we are usually content 
to demonstrate by peaceable means. Yet the assumptions are 
philosophically our most interesting stock-in-trade. 

In the fundamental notion of symbolization — mystical, prac- 
tical, or mathematical, it makes no difference — we have the 
keynote of all humanistic problems. In it lies a new concep- 
tion of "mentality," that may illumine questions of life and 
consciousness, instead of obscuring them as traditional "scien- 
tific methods" have done. If it is indeed a generative idea, it 
will beget tangible methods of its own, to free the deadlocked 
paradoxes of mind and body, reason and impulse, autonomy 
and law, and will overcome the checkmated arguments of an 
earlier age by discarding their very idiom and shaping their 
equivalents in more significant phrase. The philosophical study 
of symbols is not a technique borrowed from other disciplines. 



not even from mathematics; it has arisen in the fields that the 
great advance of learning has left fallow. Perhaps it holds the 
seed of a new intellectual harvest, to be reaped in the next 
season of the human understanding. 

2. Symbolic Transformation 

The vitality and energies of the imagination do not 
operate at will; they are fountains, not machinery. 

D. G. JAMES, Skepticism and Poetry. 

A CHANGED APPROACH to the theory of knowledge naturally 
has its effect upon psychology, too. As long as sense was sup- 
posed to be the chief factor in knowledge, psychologists took 
a prime interest in the organs that were the windows of the 
mind, and in the details of their functioning; other things 
were accorded a sketchier and sometimes vaguer treatment. 
If scientists demanded, and philosophers dutifully admitted, 
that all true belief must be based on sense-evidence, then the 
activity of the mind had to be conceived purely as a matter of 
recording and combining; then intelligence had to be a prod- 
uct of impression, memory, and association. But now, an 
epistemological insight has uncovered a more potent, howbeit 
more difficult, factor in scientific procedure — the use of sym- 
bols to attain, as well as to organize, belief. Of cotxrse, this 
alters our conception of intelligence at a stroke. Not higher 
sensitivity, not longer memory or even quicker association sets 
man so far above other animal$ that he can regard them as 
denizens of a lower world: no, it is the power of using sym- 
bols — the power of speech — that makes him lord of the earth. 
So our interest in the mind has shifted more and more from 
the acquisition of experience, the domain of sense, to the uses 
of sense-data, the realm of conception and expression. 

The importance of symbol-using, once admitted, soon be- 
comes paramount in the study of intelligence. It has lent a 
new orientation especially to genetic psychology, which traces 
the growth of the mind; for this growth is paralleled, in large 
measure, by the observable uses of language, from the first 
words in infancy to the complete self-expression of maturity, 
and perhaps the relapse into meaningless verbiage that accom- 
panies senile decline. Such researches have even been ex- 
tended from the development of individuals to the evolution 
of mental traits in nations and races. There is an increasing 



rapprochement between philology and psychology — between 
the science of language and the science of what we do with 
language. The recent literature of psychogenetics bears ample 
witness to the central position which symbol-using, or lan- 
guage in its most general sense, holds in our conception of 
human mentality. Frank Lorimer's The Growth of Reason 
bears the sub-title: "A Study of the Role of Verbal Activity 
in the Growth and Structure of the Human Mind." Grace De 
Laguna's Speech: its Function and Development treats the 
acquisition of language as not only indicative of the growth of 
concepts, but as the principal agent in this evolution. Much 
the same view is held by Professor A. D. Ritchie, who re- 
marks, in The Natural History of the Mind: "As far as thought 
is concerned, and at all levels of thought, it [mental life] is 
a symbolic process. It is mental not because the symbols are 
immaterial, for they are often material, perhaps always ma- 
terial, but because they are symbols. . . . The essential act of 
thought is symbolization." ' There is, I think, more depth in 
this statement than its author realized; had he been aware of 
it, the proposition would have occurred earlier in the book, 
and given the whole work a somewhat novel turn. As it is, he 
goes on to an excellent account of sign-using and sign-making, 
which stand forth clearly as the essential means of intellection. 

Quotations could be multiplied almost indefinitely, from an 
imposing list of sources — from John Dewey and Bertrand 
Russell, from Brunschwicg and Piaget and Head, Kohler and 
Koffka, Carnap, Delacroix, Ribot, Cassirer, Whitehead — from 
philosophers, psychologists, neurologists, and anthropologists 
— to substantiate the claim that symbolism is the recognized 
key to that mental life which is characteristically human and 
above the level of sheer animality. Symbol and meaning make 
man's world, far more than sensation; Miss Helen Keller, 
bereft of sight and hearing, or even a person like the late 
Laura Bridgman, with the single sense of touch, is capable of 
living in a wider and richer world than a dog or an ape with 
all his senses alert. 

Genetic psychology grew out of the study of animals, chil- 
dren, and savages, both from a physiological and from a behav- 
ioristic angle. Its fundamental standpoint is that the responses 
of an organism to the environment are adaptive, and are dic- 
tated by that organism's needs. Such needs may be variously 
conceived; one school reduces them all to one basic require- 
ment, such as keeping the metabolic balance, persisting in an 

' A. D. Ritchie, The Natural History of the Mind fLondon, 1936), pp. 278-279. 


ideal status;^ others distinguish as elementary more specific 
aims — e.g., nutrition, parturition, defense — or even such dif- 
ferentiated cravings as physical comfort, companionship, self- 
assertion, security, play.' The tenor of these primary concepts 
is suggested largely by the investigator's starting point. A 
biologist tends to postulate only the obvious needs of a clam 
or even an infusorian; an animal-psychologist generalizes 
somewhat less, for he makes distinctions that are relevant, say, 
to a white rat, but hardly to a clam. An observer of childhood 
conceives the cardinal interests on a still higher level. But 
through the whole hierarchy of genetic studies there runs a 
feeling of continuity, a tendency to identify the "real" or 
"ultimate" motive conditions of human action with the needs 
of primitive life, to trace all wants and aims of mankind to 
some initial protoplasmic response. This dominant principle 
is the most important thing that the evolutionist school has 
bestowed upon psychology — the assumption, sometimes 
avowed, more often tacit, that "Nihil est in homine quod non 
prius in amoeba erat." 

When students of mental evolution discovered how great a 
role in science is played by symbols, they were not slow to 
exploit that valuable insight. The acquisition of so decisive a 
tool must certainly be regarded as one of the great landmarks 
in human progress, probably the starting point of all genu- 
inely intellectual growth. Since symbol-using appears at a late 
stage, it is presumably a highly integrated form of simpler 
animal activities. It must spring from biological needs, and 
justify itself as a practical asset. Man's conquest of the world 
undoubtedly rests on the supreme development of his brain, 
which allows him to synthesize, delay, and modify his reac- 
tions by the interpolation of symbols in the gaps and confu- 
sions of direct experience, and by means of "verbal signs" to 
add the experiences of other people to his own. 

There is a profound difference between using symbols and 
merely using signs. The use of signs is the very first mani- 
festation of mind. It arises as early in biological history as the 
famous "conditioned reflex," by which a concomitant of a 
stimulus takes over the stimulus-function. The concomitant 
becomes a sign of the condition to which the reaction is really 
appropriate. This is the real beginning of mentality, for here 
is the birthplace of error, and therewith of truth. If truth and 

^ Cf. Eusenio Ri?nano, The Psvcholo^v of Reasoning (New York: Harcourt. 
Brace & Co., 1927). - s. J 

3 Cf. William James, The Principles of Psychology ( New York, 1899: first 
published in 1890). II, .348. 



error are to be attributed only to belief, then we must recog- 
nize in the earliest misuse of signs, in the inappropriate condi- 
tioned reflex, not error, but some prototype of error. We might 
call it mistake. Every piano player, every typist, knows that the 
hand can make mistakes where consciousness entertains no 
error. However, whether we speak of truth and error, or of 
their respective prototypes, whether we regard the creature 
liable to them as conscious or preconscious, or dispense with 
such terms altogether, the use of signs is certainly a mental 
function. It is the beginning of intelligence. As soon as sen- 
sations function as signs of conditions in the surrounding 
world, the animal receiving them is moved to exploit or avoid 
those conditions. The sound of a gong or a whistle, itself en- 
tirely unrelated to the process of eating, causes a dog to expect 
food, if in past experience this sound has always preceded 
dinner; it is a sign, not a part, of his food. Or, the smell of a 
cigarette, in itself not necessarily displeasing, tells a wild ani- 
mal that there is danger, and drives it into hiding. The growth 
of this sign-language runs parallel with the physical develop- 
ment of sense organs and synaptic nerve-structure. It consists 
in the transmission of sense messages to muscles and glands — 
to the organs of eating, mating, flight and defense — and obvi- 
ously functions in the interest of the elementary biological 
requirements: self-preservation, growth, procreation, the pres- 
ervation of the species. 

Even animal mentality, therefore, is built up on a primitive 
semantic; it is the power of learning, by trial and error, that 
certain phenomena in the world are signs of certain others, 
existing or about to exist; adaptation to an environment is its 
purpose, and hence the measure of its success. The environment 
may be very narrow, as it is for the mole, whose world is a 
back yard, or it may be as wide as an eagle's range and as 
complicated as a monkey's jungle preserve. That depends on 
the variety of signals a creature can receive, the variety of com- 
binations of them to which he can react, and the fixity or 
adjustability of his responses. Obviously, if he have very fixed 
reactions, he cannot adapt himself to a varied or transient en- 
vironment; if he cannot easily combine and integrate several 
activities, then the occurrence of more than one stimulus at a 
time will throw him into confusion; if he be poor in sensory 
organs — deaf, or blind, hard- shelled, or otherwise limited — he 
cannot receive many signals to begin with. 

Man's superiority in the race for self-preservation was first 
ascribed to his wider range of signals, his greater power of 



integrating reflexes, his quicker learning by trial and error; 
but a little reflection brought a much more fundamental trait 
to light, namely his peculiar use of "signs." Man, unlike all 
other animals, uses "signs" not only to indicate things, but 
also to represent them. To a clever dog, the name of a person 
is a signal that the person is present; you say the name, he 
pricks up his ears and looks for its object. If you say "dinner," 
he becomes restive, expecting food. You cannot make any 
communication to him that is not taken as a signal of some- 
thing immediately forthcoming. His mind is a simple and 
direct transmitter of messages from the world to his motor 
centers. With man it is different. We use certain "signs" 
among ourselves that do not point to anything in our actual 
surroundings. Most of our words are not signs in the sense of 
signals. They are used to talk about things, not to direct our 
eyes and ears and noses toward them. Instead of announcers 
of things, they are reminders. They have been called "substi- 
tute signs," for in our present experience they take the place 
of things that we have perceived in the past, or even things 
that we can merely imagine by combining memories, things 
that might be in past or future experience. Of course such 
"signs" do not usually serve as vicarious stimuli to actions that 
would be appropriate to their meanings; where the objects 
are quite normally not present, that would result in a complete 
chaos of behavior. They serve, rather, to let us develop a char- 
acteristic attitude toward objects in absentia, which is called 
"thinking of" or "referring to" what is not here. "Signs" used 
in this capacity are not symptoms of things, but symbols. 

The development of language is the history of the gradual 
accumulation and elaboration of verbal symbols. By means of 
this phenomenon, man's whole behavior-pattern has under- 
gone an immense change from the simple biological scheme, 
and his mentality has expanded to such a degree that it is no 
longer comparable to the minds of animals. Instead of a direct 
transmitter of coded signals, we have a system that has some- 
times been likened to a telephone-exchange,'' wherein mes- 
sages may be relayed, stored up if a line is busy, answered by 
proxy, perhaps sent over a line that did not exist when they 
were first given, noted down and kept if the desired number 
gives no answer. Words are the plugs in this super- switch- 
board; they connect impressions and let them function to- 
gether; sometimes they cause lines to become crossed in funny 
or disastrous ways. 

4 The simile of the telephone-exchange has been used by Leonard Ireland in 
The Mystery of Mind (New York: P. Van Nostrand Co.. Inc., 1926, p. 100 ff. 



This view of mentality, of its growtli tlirougii trial and 
error, its apparently complicated but essentially simple aims — 
namely, to advance the persistence, growth, and procreation 
of the organism, and to produce, and provide for, its prog- 
eny — brings the troublesome concept of Mind into line with 
other basic ideas of biology. Man is doing in his elaborate way 
just what the mouse in his simplicity is doing, and what the 
unconscious or semiconscious jellyfish is performing after its 
own chemical fashion. The ideal of "Nihil est in homine 
..." is supported by living example. The speech line between 
man and beast is minimized by the recognition that speech is 
primarily an instrument of social control, just like the cries of 
animals, but has acquired a representative function, allowing 
a much greater degree of cooperation among individuals, and 
the focussing of personal attention on absent objects. The 
passage from the sign-function of a word to its symbolic func- 
tion is gradual, a result of social organization, an instrument 
that proves indispensable once it is discovered, and develops 
through successful use. 

If the theoretic position here attributed to students of gen- 
etic psychology requires any affidavit, we can find it in the 
words of a psychologist, in Frank Lorimer's The Growth of 

"The apes described by Kohler," he says, "certainly have 
quite elaborate 'ape-ways' into which a newcomer is gradually 
acculturated, including among other patterns ways of using 
available instruments for reaching and climbing, a sort of 
rhythmic play or dance, and types of murmurs, wails and re- 
joicings. . . . 

"It is not surprising that still more intelligent animals 
should have developed much more definite and elaborate 'ani- 
mal ways,' including techniques of tool-uses and specific mech- 
anisms of vocal social control, which gradually developed into 
the 'folk-ways' of the modern anthropologist. . . . 

"Vocal acts are originally involved in the intellectual cor- 
relation of behaviour just as other physiological processes are. 
During the whole course of meaningless vocal chatter, vocal 
processes gradually accumulate intensity and dominance in be- 
haviour. . . . Specific vocables become dominant /oci of fixed 
reactions to various situations and the instruments of specific 
social adjustments. . . . The gradual differentiation and expan- 
sion of the social functions of vocal activity, among a race of 
animals characterized by increasingly complex nervous systems. 


is the fundamental principle of the historic trend of vocal 
activity to verbal activity, and the emergence of language." ' 

An interpretation of observed facts that adjusts them to a 
general scientific outlook, a theory that bridges what used to 
appear as a saltus naturae, a logical explanation displacing a 
shamefaced resort to miracle, has so much to recommend it 
that one hates to challenge it on any count. But the best ideas 
are also the ones most worth reflecting on. At first glance it 
seems as though the genetic conception of language, which 
regards the power of symbol-using as the latest and highest 
device of practical intelligence, an added instrument for gain- 
ing animal ends, must be the key to all essential features of 
human mentality. It makes rationality plausible, and shows at 
once the relationship of man and brute, and the gulf between 
them as a fairly simple phenomenon. 

The difficulty of the theory arises when we consider how 
people with synaptic switchboards between their sense organs 
and their muscles should use their verbal symbols to make the 
telephone-exchange work most efficiently. Obviously the only 
proper use of the words which "plug in" the many compli- 
cated wires is the denotation of facts. Such facts may be con- 
crete and personal, or they may be highly general and uni- 
versal ; but they should be chosen for the sake of orientation 
in the world for better living, for more advantageous practice. 
It is easy to see how errors might arise, just as they occur in 
overt action; the white rat in a maze makes mistakes, and so 
does the trout who bites at a feather-and-silk fly. In so com- 
plicated an organ as the human cortex, a confusion of mes- 
sages or of responses would be even more likely than in the 
reflex arcs of rodents or fish. But of course the mistakes should 
be subject to quick correction by the world's punishments; 
behavior should, on the whole, be rational and realistic. Any 
other response must be chalked up as failure, as a miscarriage 
of biological purposes. 

There are, indeed, philosophical and scientific thinkers who 
have accepted the biogenetic theory of mind on its great merits, 
and drawn just the conclusions indicated above. They have 
looked at the way men really use their power of symboUc 
thinking, the responses they actually make, and have been 
forced to admit that the cortical telephone-exchange does busi- 
ness in most extraordinary ways. The results of their candid 
observations are such books as W. B. Pitkin's Short Introduc- 

5 Frank Loriraer. The Growth of Reason (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 
1929), pp. 76-77. 



tion to the History of Human Stupidity, Charles Richet's 
L'homme Stupide (which deals not with men generally re- 
garded as stupid, but with the impractical customs and beliefs 
of aliens, and the folly of religious convictions), and Stuart 
Chase's The Tyranny of Words. To contemplate the unbeliev- 
able folly of which symbol-using animals are capable is very 
disgusting or very amusing, according to our mood; but philo- 
sophically it is, above all, confounding. How can an instru- 
ment develop in the interests of better practice, and survive, if 
it harbors so many dangers for the creature possessed of it? 
How can language increase a man's efficiency if it puts him at 
a biological disadvantage beside his cat? 

Mr. Chase, watching his cat Hobie Baker, reflects: 

"Hobie can never learn to talk. He can learn to respond to 
my talk, as he responds to other signs. ... He can utter cries 
indicating pain, pleasure, excitement. He can announce that 
he wants to go out of doors. . . . But he cannot master words 
and language. This in some respects is fortunate for Hobie, 
for he will not suffer from hallucinations provoked by bad 
language. He will remain a realist all his life. ... He is cer- 
tainly able to think after a fashion, interpreting signs in the 
light of past experience, deliberately deciding his course of 
action, the survival value of which is high. 

"Instead of words, Hobie sometimes uses a crude gesture 
language. We know that he has a nervous system correspond- 
ing to that of man, with messages coming in to the receptors 
in skin, ear and eye and going over the wires to the cortex, 
where memories are duly filed for reference. There are fewer 
switchboards in his cortex than in mine, which may be one of 
the reasons why he carmot learn to talk. . . . 

"Meaning comes to Hobie as it comes to me, through past 
experience. . . . 

"Generally speaking, animals tend to learn cumulatively 
through experience. The old elephant is the wisest of the 
herd. This selective process does not always operate in the 
case of human beings. The old are sometimes wise, but more 
often they are stuffed above the average with superstitions, mis- 
conceptions, and irrational dogmas. One may hazard the guess 
that erroneous identifications in human beings are pickled and 
preserved in words, and so not subject to the constant check 
of the environment, as in the case of cats and elephants. . . . 

"I find Hobie a useful exhibit along this difficult trail of 
semantics. What 'meaning' connotes to him is often so clear 
and simple that I have no trouble in following it. I come from 



a like evolutionary matrix. 'Meaning' to me has like roots, and 
a like mechanism of apprehension. I have a six-cylinder brain 
and he has a one-lunger, but they operate on like principles. 
". . . Most children do not long maintain Hobie Baker's 

realistic appraisal of the environment. Verbal identifications 
and confused abstractions begin at a tender age. . . . Language 
is no more than crudely acquired before children begin to 
suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it." ^ 

A cat with a "stalking-instinct," or other special equipment, 
who could never learn to use that asset properly, but was for- 
ever stalking chairs or elephants, would scarcely rise in animal 
estate by virtue of his talent. Men who can use symbols to 
facilitate their practical responses, but use them constantly to 
confuse and inhibit, warp and misadapt their actions, and gain 
no other end by their symbolic devices, have no prospect of 
inheriting the earth. Such an "instinct" would have no chance 
to develop by any process of successful exercise. The error- 
quotient is too great. The commonly recognized biological 
needs — food and shelter, security, sexual satisfaction, and the 
safety of young ones — are probably better assuaged by the 
realistic activities, the meows and gestures, of Hobie Baker 
than by the verbal imagination and reflection of his master. 
The cat's world is not falsified by the beliefs and poetic fig- 
ments that language creates, nor his behavior unbalanced by 
the bootless rites and sacrifices that characterize religion, art, 
and other vagaries of a word-mongering mind. In fact, his 
vital purposes are so well served without the intervention of 
these vast mental constructions, these flourishes and embellish- 
ments of the cerebral switchboard, that it is hard to see why 
such an overcomplication of the central exchange was ever 
permitted, in man's "higher centers," to block the routes from 
sensory to motor organs and garble all the messages. 

The dilemma for philosophy is bad enough to make one 
reconsider the genetic hypothesis that underlies it. If our basic 
needs were really just those of lower creatures much refined, 
we should have evolved a more realistic language than in fact 
we have. If the mind were essentially a recorder and trans- 
mitter, typified by the simile of the telephone-exchange, we 
should act very differently from the way we actually do. Cer- 
tainly no "learning-process" has caused man to believe in 
magic; yet "word-magic" is a common practice among primi- 
tive peoples, and so is vicarious treatment — burning in effigy, 

6 Stuart Chase, The Tyranny of Words (Xew York: Harcourt. Brace & Co.. 
1938), pp. 46-56. 



etc. — where the proxy is plainly a mere symbol of the desired 
victim. Another strange, universal phenomenon is ritual. It is 
obviously symbolic, except where it is aimed at concrete re- 
sults, and then it may be regarded as a communal form of 

magic. Now, all magical and ritual practices are hopelessly in- 
appropriate to the preservation and increase of life. My cat 
would turn up his nose and his tail at them. To regard them 
as mistaken attempts to control nature, as a result of wrong 
synapses, or "crossed wires," in the brain, seems to me to leave 
the most rational of animals too deep in the slough of error. 
If a savage in his ignorance of physics tries to make a moun- 
tain open its caverns by dancing round it, we must admit with 
shame that no rat in a psychologist's maze would try such pat- 
ently ineffectual methods of opening a door. Nor should such 
experiments be carried on, in the face of failure, for thousands 
of years; even morons should learn more quickly than that. 

Another item in human behavior is our serious attitude 
toward art. Genetic psychology usually regards art as a form of 
play, a luxury product of the mind. This is not only a scien- 
tific theory, it is a common-sense view; we play an instrument, 
we act a play. Yet like many common-sense doctrines, it is 
probably false. Great artists are rarely recruited from the leis- 
ure class, and it is only in careless speech that we denote music 
or tragedy as our "hobby"; we do not really class them with 
tennis or bridge. We condemn as barbarous people who de- 
stroy works of art, even under the stress of war — blame them 
for ruining the Parthenon, when only a recent, sentimental 
generation has learned to blame them for ruining the homes 
that surrounded the sanctuary of Beauty! Why should the 
world wail over the loss of a play product, and look with its 
old callousness on the destruction of so much that dire labor 
has produced? It seems a poor economy of nature that men 
will suffer and starve for the sake of play, when play is sup- 
posed to be the abundance of their strength after their needs 
are satisfied. Yet artists as a class are so ready to sacrifice 
wealth and comfort and even health to their trade, that a lean 
and hollow look has become an indispensable feature in the 
popular conception of genius. 

There is a third factor in human life that challenges the 
utilitarian doctrine of symbolism. That is the constant, in- 
effectual process of dreaming during sleep. The activity of the 
mind seems to go on all the time, like that of the heart and 
lungs and viscera; but during sleep it serves no practical pur- 
pose. That dream-material is symbolic is a fairly established 



fact. And symbols are supposed to have evolved from the ad- 
vantageous use of signs. They are representative signs, that 
help to retain things for later reference, for comparing, plan- 
ning, and generally for purposive thinking. Yet the symbolism 
of dreams performs no such acquired function. At best it 
presents us with the things we do not want to think about, the 
things which stand in the way of practical living. Why should 
the mind produce symbols that do not direct the dreamer's 
activities, that only mix up the present with unsuitable past 
experiences ? 

There are several theories of dream, notably, of course, the 
Freudian interpretation. But those which — like Freud's — re- 
gard it as more than excess mental energy or visceral distur- 
bance do not fit the scientific picture of the mind's growth and 
function at all. A mind whose semantic powers are evolved 
from the functioning of the motor arc should only think; any 
vagaries of association are "mistakes." If our viscera made as 
many mistakes in sleep as the brain, we should all die of indi- 
gestion after our first nursing. It may be replied that the mis- 
takes of dream are harmless, since they have no motor 
terminals, though they enter into waking life as memories, 
and we have to learn to discount them. But why does the 
central switchboard not rest when there is no need of making 
connections? Why should the plugs be popped in and out, 
and set the whole system wildly ringing, only to end with a 
universal "Excuse it, please"? 

The love of magic, the high development of ritual, the 
seriousness of art, and the characteristic activity of dreams, 
are rather large factors to leave out of account in constructing 
a theory of mind. Obviously the mind is doing something 
else, or at least something more, than just connecting experi- 
ential items. It is not functioning simply in the interest of 
those biological needs which genetic psychology recognizes. 
Yet it is a natural organ, and presumably does nothing that is 
not relevant to the total behavior, the response to nature that 
constitutes human life. The moral of this long critique is, 
therefore, to reconsider the inventory of human needs, which 
scientists have established on a basis of animal psychology, and 
somewhat hastily set up as the measure of a man. An unre- 
corded motive might well account for many an unexplained 
action. I propose, therefore, to try a new general principle: to 
conceive the mind, still as an organ in the service of primary 
needs, but of characteristically human needs; instead of as- 
suming that the human mind tries to do the same things as a 


cat's mind, but by the use of a special talent which miscarries 
four times out of five, I shall assume that the human mind is 
trying to do something else; and that the cat does not act 
humanly because he does not need to. This difference in fun- 
damental needs, 1 believe, determines the difference of function 
which sets man so far apart from all his zoological brethren; 
and the recognition of it is the key to those paradoxes in the 
philosophy of mind which our too consistently zoological 
model of human intelligence has engendered. 

It is generally conceded that men have certain "higher" 
aims and desires than animals; but what these are, and in 
what sense they are "higher," may still be mooted without any 
universal agreement. There are essentially two schools of opin- 
ion: one which considers man the highest animal, and his 
supreme desires as products of his supreme mind; and another 
which regards him as the lowest spirit, and his unique long- 
ings as a manifestation of his otherworldly admixture. To the 
naturalists, the difference between physical and mental inter- 
ests, between organismic will and moral will, between hungry 
meows and harvest prayers, or between faith in the mother 
cat and faith in a heavenly father, is a difference of complex- 
ity, abstractness, articulateness, in short: a difference of de- 
gree. To the religious interpreters it seems a radical distinction, 
a difference, in each case, of kind and cause. The moral senti- 
ments especially are deemed a sign of the ultimate godhead in 
man; likewise the power of prayer, which is regarded as a 
gift, not a native and natural power like laughter, tears, lan- 
guage, and song. The Ancient Mariner, when suddenly he 
could pray, had not merely found his speech; he had received 
grace, he was given back the divine status from which he had 
fallen. According to the religious conception, man is at most 
half-brother to the beast. No matter how many of his traits 
may be identified as simian features, there is that in him yet 
which springs from a different source and is forever unzoolog- 
ical. This view is the antithesis of the naturalistic; it breaks 
the structure of genetic psychology in principle. For, the study 
of psychogenesis has grown up on exactly the opposite creed 
— that man is a true-blooded, full-franchised denizen of the 
animal kingdom, without any alien ancestors, and therefore has 
no features or functions which animals do not share in some 

That man is an animal 1 certainly believe; and also, that he 
has no supernatural essence, "soul" or "entelechy" or "mind- 
Stuff," enclosed in his skin. He is an organism, his substance 


is chemical, and what he does, suffers, or knows, is just what 
this sort of chemical structure may do, suffer, or know. When 
the structure goes to pieces, it never does, suffers, or knows 
anything again. If we ask how physical objects, chemically 
analyzable, can be conscious, how ideas can occur to them, we 
are talking ambiguously; for the conception of "physical ob 
ject" is a conception of chemical substance not biologically 
organized. What causes this tremendous organization of sub- 
stances, is one of the things the tremendous organisms do not 
know; but with their organization, suffering and impulse and 
awareness arise. It is really no harder to imagine that a 
chemically active body wills, knows, thinks, and feels, than 
that an invisible, intangible something does so, "animates" the 
body without physical agency, and "inhabits" it without being 
in any place. 

Now this is a mere declaration of faith, preliminary to a 
confession of heresy. The heresy is this: that 1 believe there is 
a primary need in man, which other creatures probably do not 
have, and which actuates all his apparently unzoological aims, 
his wistful fancies, his consciousness of value, his utterly im- 
practical enthusiasms, and his awareness of a "Beyond" filled 
with holiness. Despite the fact that this need gives rise to 
almost everything that we commonly assign to the "higher" 
life, it is not itself a "higher" form of some "lower" need; it 
is quite essential, imperious, and general, and may be called 
"high" only in the sense that it belongs exclusively (I think) 
to a very complex and perhaps recent genus. It may be satisfied 
in crude, primitive ways or in conscious and refined ways, so 
it has its own hierarchy of "higher" and "lower," elementary 
and derivative forms. 

This basic need, which certainly is obvious only in man, is 
the need of symbolization. The symbol-making function is 
one of man's primary activities, like eating, looking, or moving 
about. It is the fundamental process of his mind, and goes on 
all the time. Sometimes we are aware of it, sometimes we 
merely find its results, and realize that certain experiences 
have passed through our brains and have been digested there. 

Hark back, now, to a passage already quoted above, from 
Ritchie's The Natural History of the Mind: "As far as thought 
is concerned, and at all levels of thought, it is a symbolic 
process. . . . The essential act of thought is symbolization." ' 
The significance of this statement strikes us more forcibly 
now. For if the material of thought is symbolism, then the 

7 See p. 21. 



thinking organism must be forever furnishing symboUc ver- 
sions of its experiences, in order to let thinking proceed. As a 

matter of fact, it is not the essential act of thought that is sym- 
bolization, but an act essential to thought, and prior to it. 
Symbolization is the essential act of mind; and mind takes in 
more than what is commonly called thought. Only certain 
products of the symbol-making brain can be used according to 
the canons of discursive reasoning. In every mind there is an 
enormous store of other symbolic material, which is put to dif- 
ferent uses or perhaps even to no use at all — a mere result of 
spontaneous brain activity, a reserve fund of conceptions, a 
surplus of mental wealth. 

The brain works as naturally as the kidneys and the blood- 
vessels. It is not dormant just because there is no conscious 
purpose to be served at the moment. If it were, indeed, a vast 
and intricate telephone-exchange, then it should be quiescent 
when the rest of the organism sleeps, or at most transmit ex- 
periences of digestion, of wanted oxygen or itching toes, of 
after-images on the retina or little throbbings in pressed ar- 
teries. Instead of that, it goes right on manufacturing ideas — 
streams and deluges of ideas, that the sleeper is not using to 
thitik with about anything. But the brain is following its own 
law; it is actively translating experiences into symbols, in ful- 
filment of a basic need to do so. It carries on a constant process 
of ideation. 

Ideas are undoubtedly made out of impressions — out of 
sense messages from the special organs of perception, and 
vague visceral reports of feeling. The law by which they are 
made, however, is not a law of direct combination. Any at- 
tempt to use such principles as association by contiguity or 
similarity soon runs into sheer unintelligible complication and 
artifice. Ideation proceeds by a more potent principle, which 
seems to be best described as a principle of symbolization. 
The material furnished by the senses is constantly wrought 
into symbols, which are our elementary ideas. Some of these 
ideas can be combined and manipulated in the manner we call 
"reasoning." Others do not lend themselves to this use, but 
are naturally telescoped into dreams, or vapor off in conscious 
fantasy; and a vast number of them build the most typical and 
fundamental edifice of the human mind — religion. 

Symbolization is pre-rationative, but not pre-rational. It is 
the starting point of all intellection in the human sense, and is 
more general than thinking, fancying, or taking action. For 
the brain is not merely a great transmitter, a super-switch- 



board; it is better likened to a great transformer. The current 
of experience that passes through it undergoes a change of 
character, not through the agency of the sense by which the 
perception entered, but by virtue of a primary use which is 
made of it immediately: it is sucked into the stream of sym- 
bols which constitutes a human mind. 

Our overt acts are governed by representations whose count- 
erparts can nowhere be pointed out, whose objects are "per- 
cepts" only in a Pickwickian sense. The representations on 
which we act are symbols of various kinds. This fact is recog- 
nized in a vague and general way by most epistemologists; 
but what has not received their due recognition is the enor- 
mous importance of the kinds. So long as we regard sensations 
as signs of the things which are supposed to give rise to them, 
and perhaps endow such signs with further reference to past 
sensations that were similar signs, we have not even scratched 
the surface of the symbol-mongering human mind. It is only 
when we penetrate into the varieties of symbolific activity — 
as Cassirer, for instance, has done — that we begin to see why 
human beings do not act as superintelligent cats, dogs, or apes 
would act. Because our brain is only a fairly good transmitter, 
but a tremendously powerful transformer, we do things that 
Mr. Chase's cat would reject as too impractical, if he were 
able to conceive them. So they would be, for him; so are they 
for the psychologist who deems himself a cat of the nth 

The fact that the human brain is constantly carrying on a 
process of symbolic transformation of the experiential data 
that come to it causes it to be a veritable fountain of more or 
less spontaneous ideas. As all registered experience tends to 
terminate in action, it is only natural that a typically human 
function should require a typically human form of overt activ- 
ity; and that is just what we find in the sheer expression of 
ideas. This is the activity of which beasts appear to have no 
need. And it accounts for just those traits in man which he 
does not hold in common with the other animals — ritual, art, 
laughter, weeping, speech, superstition, and scientific genius. 

Only a part — howbeit a very important part — of our behav- 
ior is practical. Only some of our expressions are signs, in- 
dicative or mnemonic, and belong to the heightened animal 
wisdom called common sense; and only a small and relatively 
unimportant part are immediate signs of feeling. The remain- 
der serve simply to express ideas that the organism yearns to 
express, i.e. to act upon, without practical purpose, without 



any view to satisfying other needs than the need of completing 
in overt action the brain's symbolic process. 

How else shall we account for man's-love of talk? From 
the first dawning recognition that words can express some- 
thing, talk is a dominant interest, an irresistible desire. As 
soon as this avenue of action opens, a whole stream of sym- 
bolic process is set free in the jumbled outpouring of words — 
often repeated, disconnected, random words — that we observe 
in the "chattering" stage of early childhood. Psychologists 
generally, and perhaps correctly, regard such babble as verbal 
play, and explain it through its obvious utilitarian function of 
developing the lines of communication that will be needed 
later in life. But an explanation by final causes does not really 
account for the occurrence of an act. What gives a child the 
present stimulus to talk? Surely not the prospect of acquiring 
a useful tool toward his future social relations! The impulse 
must be motivated by a present need, not a prospective one. 
Mr. Chase, who sees no use in words except their practical 
effect on other people, admits the puzzling fact that "children 
practice them with as much gusto as Hobie stalks a mouse." * 
But we can hardly believe that they do so for the sake of prac- 
tice. There must be immediate satisfaction in this strange ex- 
ercise, as there is in running and kicking. The effect of words 
on other people is only a secondary consideration. Mrs. De 
Laguna has pointed this out in her book on the general nature 
of speech: "The little child," she says there, "spends many 
hours and much energy in vocal play. It is far more agreeable 
to carry on this play with others . . . but the little child in- 
dulges in language-play even when he is alone. . . . Internal 
speech, fragmentary or continuous, becomes the habitual ac- 
companiment of his active behaviour and the occupation of 
his idle hours." ' Speech is, in fact, the readiest active termina- 
tion of that basic process in the human brain which may be 
called symbolic transformation of experiences. The fact that 
it makes elaborate communication with others possible be- 
comes important at a somewhat later stage. Piaget has ob- 
served that children of kindergarten age pay Uttle attention to 
the response of others; they talk just as blithely to a compan- 
ion who does not understand them as to one who gives correct 
answers.'" Of course they have long learned to use language 

8 Op. cit., p. 54. 

9 Grace De Laguna, Speech: its Function and Developmen! (New Haven: Yale 
University Pres.s. 1927;, D. 307. 

Jean Piaget, The Language and Thought of the Child (New York: Harcourt, 
Brace & Co., 1926). See esp. chaps, i and ri. 



practically; but the typically infantile, or "egocentric," func- 
tion persists side by side with the progressively social devel- 
opment of communication. The sheer symbolific use of sounds 
is the more primitive, the easier use, which can be made be- 
fore conventional forms are really mastered, just as soon as 
any meaning-experience has occurred to the vociferous little 
human animal. The practical use, though early, is more diffi- 
cult, for it is not the direct fulfilment of a craving; it is an 
adaptation of language for the satisfaction of other needs. 

Words are certainly our most important instruments of ex- 
pression, our most characteristic, universal, and enviable tools 
in the conduct of life. Speech is the mark of humanity. It is 
the normal terminus of thought. We are apt to be so impressed 
with its symbolistic mission that we regard it as the only im- 
portant expressive act, and assume that all other activity must 
be practical in an animalian way, or else irrational — playful, 
or atavistic (residual) past recognition, or mistaken, i.e., un- 
successful. But in fact, speech is the natural outcome of only 
one kind of symbolic process. There are transformations of 
experience in the human mind that have quite different overt 
endings. They end in acts that are neither practical nor com- 
municative, though they may be both effective and communal; 
1 mean the actions we call ritual. 

Human life is shot through and through with ritual, as it is 
also with animalian practices. It is an intricate fabric of reason 
and rite, of knowledge and religion, prose and poetry, fact 
and dream. Just as the results of that primitive process of 
mental digestion, verbal symbolism, may be used for the satis- 
faction of other needs than symbolization, so all other instinc- 
tive acts may serve the expressive function. Eating, traveling, 
asking or answering questions, construction, destruction, pros- 
titution — any or all such activities may enter into rites; yet 
rites in themselves are not practical, but expressive. Ritual, like 
art, is essentially the active termination of a symbolic transfor- 
mation of experience. It is born in the cortex, not in the "old 
brain"; but it is born of an elementary need of that organ, 
once the organ has grown to human estate. 

If the "impractical" use of language has mystified philoso- 
phers and psychologists who measured it by standards it is 
not really designed to meet, the apparent perversity of ritual 
from the same point of view has simply overcome them. They 
have had to invent excuses for its existence, to save the psycho- 
genetic theory of mind. They have sought its explanation in 
social purposes, in ulterior motivations of the most unlikely 

sort, in "mistakes" of sense and reason that verge on complete 
imbecility; they have wondered at the incorrigibility of religious 
follies, at the docility of the poor dupes who let themselves be 
misled, and at the disproportionate cost of the supposed social 
advantages; but they have not been led to the assumption of 
a peculiarly human need which is fed, as every need must be, 
at the expense of other interests. 

The ethnologists who were the first white men to interest 
themselves in the ritual of primitive races for any other pur- 
pose than to suppress or correct it were mystified by the high 
seriousness of actions that looked purely clownish and farcical 
to the European beholder; just as the Christian missionaries 
had long reported the difficulty of making the gospels plaus- 
ible to men who were able to believe stories far more mysteri- 
ous and fantastic in their own idiom. Andrew Lang, for 
instance, discussing the belief in magic, makes the following 

"The theory requires for its existence an almost boundless 
credulity. This credulity appears to Europeans to prevail in 
full force among savages. . . . But it is a curious fact that 
while savages are, as a rule, so credulous, they often 'laugh 
consumedly' at the religious doctrines taught them by mission- 
aries. Savages and civilized men have different standards of 
credulity. Dr. Moffat remarks. To speak of the Creation, the 
Fall, and the Resurrection, seemed more fabulous, extravagant, 
and ludicrous to them than their own vain stories of lions and 
hyaenas." ... It is, apparently, in regard to imported and 
novel opinions about religion and science alone that savages 
imitate the conduct of the adder which according to St. Augus- 
tine, is voluntarily deaf. , . ." " 

Frobenius, also a pioneer in the study of primitive society, 
describes an initiation ceremony in New South Wales, in the 
course of which the older men performed a dog-dance, on all 
fours, for the benefit of the young acolytes who watched these 
rites, preliminary to the painful honor of having a tooth 
knocked out. Frobenius refers to the ritual as a "comedy," a 
"farce," and is amazed at the solemnity with which the boys 
sat through the "ridiculous canine display." "They acted as if 
they never caught sight of the comical procession of men." 
A little later he describes a funeral among the Bougala, in the 
Southern Congo; again, each step in the performance seems to 
him a circus act, until at last "there now followed, if possible, 

''Myth, Ritual, and Religion, 2 vols. (1887), 1, 91. 
Leo Frobenius, The Childhood of Man (London, 1909; first published in 1901 
under the title. Aus den Flegeljahren der Menschheit), p. 41 ft. 



a still more clownish farce. The deceased had now himself to 
declare what was the cause of his death." The professor is 
at a loss to understand how even the least intelligent of men 
can reach such depths of folly. Perhaps the savages who 
"laughed consumedly" at a tonsured father's sacraments with 
Holy Water, his God-eating and his scriptural explanations, 
were having a similar difficulty! 

Later scholars gradually realized that the irrationality of 
customs and rites were so great that they could not possibly be 
"mistakes" of practice, or rest on "erroneous" theories of 
nature. Obviously they serve some natural purpose to which 
their practical justification or lack of justification is entirely 
irrelevant. Mrs. De Laguna seeks this purpose in the social 
solidarity which a prescribed ritual imparts: "Those elaborate 
and monstrous systems of belief," she says, "cannot possibly 
be accounted for by any simple theory that beliefs are deter- 
mined by their successful 'working' in practice. . . . The truth 
is . . . that some more or less organized system of beliefs and 
sentiments is an absolute necessity for the carrying on of social 
life. So long as group solidarity is secured by some such sys- 
tem, the particular beliefs which enter into it may to an indefi- 
nite degree lead to behavior ill-adapted to the objective order 
of nature." But why should this social purpose not be served 
by a sensible dogma which the members of the society could 
reasonably be called on to believe, instead of "elaborate and 
monstrous" creeds issuing in all sorts of cruel rites, mutila- 
tions and even human sacrifices, such as Baal or the Aztec 
gods demanded ? Why did the Cults of Reason set up in post- 
Revolutionary France and in early Soviet Russia not serve the 
purpose of social solidarity every bit as well as the "Christian 
hocus-pocus" they displaced, and much better than the dog- 
dances and interrogation of the dead that disturbed Frobenius 
by their incredibility? Why should a priesthood primarily in- 
terested in accomplishing a social end demand that its laity 
should believe in immoral and unreasonable gods? Plato, who 
treated religion in just this sociological spirit, found himself 
confronted with this question. The established religion of 
Greece was not only irrational, but the social unity that might 
be achieved by participating in one form of worship and fol- 
lowing one divine example was off-set by the fact that this 
worship was often degrading and the example bad. How 
could any wise ruler or rulers prescribe such ritual, or indorse 
such a mythology? 

" Ibid., p. 148. 14 Speech, pp. 345-346. 



The answer is, of course, that ritual is not prescribed for a 
practical purpose, not even that of social solidarity. Such soli- 
darity may be one of its effects, and sophisticated warlords 
may realize this fact and capitalize on it by emphasizing na- 
tional religion or holding compulsory prayers before battle; 
but neither myth nor ritual arose originally for this purpose. 
Even the pioneers in anthropology, to whom the practices of 
savage society must have been more surprising than to us who 
are initiated through their reports, realized that the "farces" 
and "antics" of primitive men were profoundly serious, and 
that their wizards could not be accused of bad faith. "Magic 
has not its origin in fraud, and seems seldom practiced as an 
utter imposture," observed Tylor, seventy years ago. "It is, in 
fact, a sincere but fallacious system of philosophy, evolved by 
the human intellect by processes still in great measure unintel- 
ligible to our minds, and it had thus an original standing- 
ground in the world." Its roots lie much deeper than any 
conscious purpose, any trickery, policy, or practical design; 
they lie in that substratum of the mind, the realm of funda- 
mental ideas, and bear their strange if not poisonous fruits, 
by virtue of the human need for expressing such ideas. What- 
ever purpose magical practice may serve, its direct motivation 
is the desire to symbolize great conceptions. It is the overt 
action in which a rich and savage imagination automatically 
ends. Its origin is probably not practical at all, but ritualistic; 
its central aim is to symbolize a Presence, to aid in the formu- 
lation of a religious universe. "Show us a miracle, that we 
may believe thou art God." Magic is never employed in a 
commonplace mood, like ordinary causal agency; this fact 
beUes the widely accepted belief that the "method of magic" 
rests on a mistaken view of causality. After all, a savage who 
beats a tom-tom to drive off his brother's malaria would never 
make such a practical mistake as to shoot his arrow blunt end 
forward or bait his fishline with flowers. It is not ignorance 
of causal relations, but the supervention of an interest stronger 
than his practical interest, that holds him to magical rites. 
This stronger interest concerns the expressive value of such 
mystic acts. 

Magic, then, is not a method, but a language; it is part and 
parcel of that greater phenomenon, ritual, which is the lan- 
guage of religion. Ritual is a symbolic transformation of ex- 
periences that no other medium can adequately express. 

"e. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, 2 vols. (6th ed., 1920; first published in 
1871), I, 134. 



Because it springs from a primary liuman need, it is a spon- 
taneous activity — tiiat is to say, it arises witiiout intention, 
without adaptation to a conscious purpose; its growth is un- 
designed, its pattern purely natural, however intricate it may 
be. It was never "imposed" on people; they acted thus quite 
of themselves, exactly as bees swarmed and birds built nests, 
squirrels hoarded food, and cats washed their faces. No one 
made up ritual, any more than anyone made up Hebrew or 
Sanskrit or Latin. The forms of expressive acts — speech and 
gesture, song and sacrifice — are the symbolic transformations 
which minds of certain species, at certain stages of their de- 
velopment and communion, naturally produce. 

Franz Boas remarked, even in one of his early works, that 
ritual resembled language in the unconscious development of 
its forms; and furthermore he saw, though less clearly, that 
it had certain symbolistic functions. After a discussion of the 
role played by language in the actual division and arrangement 
of sense-experience, he says: "The behavior of primitive man 
makes it perfectly clear that all these linguistic classes have 
never risen to consciousness, and that consequently their origin 
must be sought, not in rational, but in entirely unconscious, 
processes of the mind. ... It seems very plausible . . . that 
the fundamental religious notions ... are in their origin just 
as little conscious as the fundamental ideas of language." 
And a few pages later he touches, howbeit only tentatively and 
vaguely, upon the expressive nature of those practices which 
seem "impractical" to us: 

"Primitive man views each action not only as adapted to its 
main object, each thought related to its main end, as we 
should perceive them, but ... he associates them with other 
ideas, often of a religious or at least a symbolic nature. Thus 
he gives them a higher significance than they seem to us to 
deserve. Every taboo is an example of such associations of 
apparently trifling actions with ideas that are so sacred that 
a deviation from the customary mode of performance creates 
the strongest emotions of abhorrence. The interpretation of 
ornaments as charms, the symbolism of decorative art, are 
other examples of association of ideas that, on the whole, are 
foreign to our mode of thought." 

A year after Boas's book, there appeared the articles by Sig- 
mund Freud which are now collected under the title of Totem 
and Taboo. It was Freud who recognized that ritual acts are 

l^The Mind of Primitive Man (New York: Macmillan, 1911), pp. 198-199. 
" Ibid. p. 209. 18 Published in New York by Dodd, Mead & Co. in 1918. 



not genuine instrumental acts, but are motivated primarily a 
tergo, and carry with them, consequently, a feeling not of pur- 
pose, but of compulsion. They must be performed, not to any 
visible end, but from a sheer inward need; and he is familiar 
enough with such compulsive acts in other settings to suspect 
at once that in the religious sphere, too, they are best inter- 
preted as expressive behavior. Empirically senseless, they are 
none the less important and justified when we regard them as 
symbolic presentations rather than practical measures. They 
are spontaneous transformations of experience, and the form 
they take is normal for the primitive mind. In civilized soci- 
ety, the same phenomena are apt to be pathological; there is 
a good reason for this, but that must be postponed to a later 

The great contribution of Freud to the philosophy of mind 
has been the realization that human behavior is not only a 
food-getting strategy, but is also a language; that every move 
is at the same time a gesture. Symbolization is both an end 
and an instrument. So far, epistemology has treated it only in 
the latter capacity; and philosophers have ample reason to 
wonder why this purely utilitarian trait of man's mind so fre- 
quently plays him false, why nature permitted it to grow be- 
yond the limits of usefulness, to assume a tyrant role and lure 
him into patently impractical ventures. The fact is, I believe, 
that it did not originate purely in the service of other activities. 
It is a primary interest, and may require a sacrifice of other 
ends, just as the imperative demand for food or sex-life may 
necessitate sacrifices under difficult conditions. This funda- 
mentally — not adventitiously — symbolific function of the mind 
was suggested to Freud by his psychiatric studies, but in later 
works he has given it a very general development, notably in 
the book already cited. Totem and Taboo.'^ Certainly he has 
carried his theories far enough to make a philosophical study 
of "impractical" actions — writes, formalities, dramatizations, 
and above all, the unapplied arts — relevant and promising in 
the light of them. Yet few epistemologists have seriously 
taken advantage of the new ideas that fairly cry to be explored. 

The reason is, probably, that traditional theory of mind is 
epistemology — theory of knowledge: and Freud's psychology 
is not directly applicable to the problems which compose this 
field. Symbolism, as it enters into the structure of knowledge, 
is better typified by mathematical "expressions" than by swas- 
. 19 See also. GroHp Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York: Boni &. 



tikas or genuflexions. Language, not ritual, is its main repre- 

In order to relate these two distinct conceptions of sym- 
bolism, and exhibit the respective parts they play in that gen- 
eral human response we call a life, it is necessary to examine 
more accurately that which makes symbols out of anything — 
out of marks on paper, the little squeaks and grunts we inter- 
pret as "words," or bended knees — the quality of meaning, in 
its several aspects and forms. Meaning rests upon a condition 
which is, in the last analysis, logical; therefore the next chap- 
ter will have to concern itself mainly with logical structure, 
and cannot help being somewhat technical. But without such 
a grounding the whole argument would remain intangible, un- 
founded, and would probably appear more fantastic than co- 
gent; so a short account of what constitutes meaning, what 
characterizes symbols, and also the different kinds of sym- 
bolism and their logical distinctions, will have to precede any 
further elaborations of the ideas so far suggested. 

3. The Logic of Signs and Symbols 

So MUCH WORK has already been done on the logic of mean- 
ing that it is not necessary to present long arguments in sup- 
port of the theory here employed; let it suffice to outline the 
facts, or if you will, the assumptions, on which my further 
considerations are to rest. 

Meaning has both a logical and a psychological aspect. 
Psychologically, any item that is to have meaning must be em- 
ployed as a sign or a symbol; that is to say, it must be a sign 
or a symbol to someone. Logically, it must be capable of con- 
veying a meaning, it must be the sort of item that can be thus 
employed. In some meaning-relations this logical requirement 
is trivial, and tacitly accepted; in others it is of the utmost 
importance, and may even lead us a merry chase through the 
labyrinths of nonsense. These two aspects, the logical and the 
psychological, are thoroughly confounded by the ambiguous 
verb "to mean"; for sometimes it is proper to say "it means," 
and sometimes "I mean." Obviously, a word — say, "London" 
— does not "mean" a city in just the same sense that a person 
employing the word "means" the place. 



Both aspects, the logical and the psychological, are always 
present, and their interplay produces the great variety of mean- 
ing-relations over which philosophers have puzzled and fought 
for the last fifty years. The analysis of "meaning" has had a 

peculiarly difficult history; the word is used in many different 
ways, and a good deal of controversy has been wasted on the 
subject of the correct way, the meaning of "meaning." When- 
ever people find several species of a genus, they look for the 
prime form, the archetype that is supposed to be differently 
disguised in each special case; so, for a long time, philosophers 
hoped to find the true quality of meaning by collecting all its 
various manifestations and looking for a common ingredient. 
They talked more and more generally about "symbol-situa- 
tions," believing that by generalization they might attain to 
the essential quality which all such situations had in common. 
But generalizing from vague and muddled special theories can 
never give us a clear general theory. The sort of generalization 
that merely substitutes "symbol-situation" for "denotation-or- 
connotation-or-signification-or-association-etc." is scientifically 
useless; for the whole purpose of general concepts is to make 
the distinctions between special classes clear, to relate all sub- 
species to each other in definite ways; but if such general con- 
cepts are simply composite photographs of all known types of 
meaning, they can only blur, not clarify, the relations that 
obtain among specialized senses of the word. 

Charles Peirce, who was probably the first person to con- 
cern himself seriously with semantics, began by making an 
inventory of all "symbol-situations," in the hope that when 
all possible meanings of "meaning" were herded together, 
they would show empirical differentiae whereby one could di- 
vide the sheep from the goats. But the obstreperous flock, in- 
stead of falling neatly into a few classes, each according to its 
kind, divided and subdivided into the most terrifying order of 
icons, qualisigns, legisigns, semes, phemes, and delomes, and 
there is but cold comfort in his assurance that his original 
59,049 types can really be boiled down to a mere sixty-six.' 

A few further attempts were made to grasp the essential 
quality of meaning by empirical methods, but the more vari- 
eties could be found, the less did they promise to reveal a 
common essence. Husserl, distinguishing each type of meaning 
as a special notion, ended with as many theories as there are 

^ From two letters to Lady Welby, 1904 and 1908 respectively, first cited by 
Ogden and Richards in The Meaning of Meaning (App. D, pp. 435-444), and now 
published in The Collected Papers of Charles S. Peirce (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press. 1932), II: Elements of Logic," p. 330. 


"meanings." ^ But we have still the sheep and the goats and all 
their several relatives, and are still left wondering why one 
family name, Meaning, should apply where no family likeness 
can be detected. 

There is in fact no quality of meaning; its essence lies in 
the realm of logic, where one does not deal with qualities, but 
only with relations. It is not fair to say: "Meaning is a rela- 
tion," for that suggests too simple a business. Most people 
think of a relation as a two-termed affair — "A-in-relation-to- 
B"; but meaning involves several terms, and different types of 
meaning consist of different types and degrees of relationship. 
It is better, perhaps, to say: "Meaning is not a quality, but a 
function of a term." A function is a pattern viewed with refer- 
ence to one special term round which it centers; this pattern 
emerges when we look at the given term in its total relation to 
the other terms about it. The total may be quite complicated. 
For instance, a musical chord may be treated as a function of 
one note, known as the "written bass," by writing this one note 
and indicating its relation to all the other notes that are to 

go above it. In old organ music, the chord 

would be 


which means: "The A-chord with the 



sixth, the fourth and the third notes above A." The chord is 
treated as a pattern surrounding and including A. It is ex- 
pressed as a function of A. 

The meaning of a term is, likewise, a function; it rests on 
a pattern, in which the term itself holds the key-position. Even 
in the simplest kinds of meaning there must be at least two 
other things related to the term that "means" — an object that 
is "meant," and a subject who uses the term; just as in a chord 
there must be at least two notes besides the "written bass" to 
determine what the chord is (one of these may be merely 
"understood" by musicians, but without it the combination 
would not be a determinate chord). The same may be said 
for a term with a meaning; the existence of a subject is often 
tacitly accepted, but if there is not at least one thing meant 
and one mind for which it is meant, then there is not a com- 
plete meaning — only a partial pattern which might be com- 
pleted in different ways. 

^ Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchmgen, 2 vols. (Halle a/S., 1913 and 
1921), vol. II, part I, passim. 



Any term in a pattern may be taken as a key-term to which 

be regarded as a function of its lowest note, and expressed by 
the description '■^.—^^ ; or it may be treated with reference 

to the note on which it is built harmonically, which happens 

to be D. A musician analyzing the harmony would call this 
chord "the second inversion of the seventh-chord on the domi- 
nant, in the key of G." The "dominant" of that key is D, not 
A. He would treat the whole pattern as a function of D; that 
sounds more complicated than the other treatment, which 
fixed the notes from the A upward, but of course it is not 
really so, because it comes to just the same pattern. 

Similarly, we may view a meaning-pattern from the point of 
view of any term in it, and our descriptions of the same pattern 
will differ accordingly. We may say that a certain symbol 
"means" an object to a person, or that the person "means" 
the object by the symbol. The first description treats meaning 
in the logical sense, the second in the psychological sense. The 
former takes the symbol as the key, and the latter the subject.^ 
So, the two most controversial kinds of meaning — the logical 
and the psychological — are distinguished and at the same time 
related to each other, by the general principle of viewing 
meaning as a function, not a property, of terms. 

In the further analyses that follow, "meaning" will be taken 
in the objective sense, unless some other is specified; that is 
to say, I shall speak of terms (such as words) as "meaning" 
something, not of people as "meaning" this or that. Later we 
shall have to distinguish various subjective functions; but at 
present let us consider the relations of terms to their objects. 
What relates the terms to their objects is, of course, a subject; 
that is always to be understood. 

There are, first of all, two distinct functions of terms, which 
have both a perfectly good right to the name "meaning": for a 
significant sound, gesture, thing, event (e.g. a flash, an 
image), may be either a sign or a symbol. 

A sign indicates the existence — past, present, or future — 

3 Where the object is taken as the key, the resulting description begins with 
the "knowledge-content" postulated in some epistemologies. 

the others are related. For instance, the chord 




of a thing, event, or condition. Wet streets are a sign that it 
has rained. A patter on the roof is a sign that it is raining. A 
fall of the barometer or a ring round the moon is a sign that 
it is going to rain. In an unirrigated place, abundant verdure 

is a sign that it often rains there. A smell of smoke signifies 
the presence of fire. A scar is a sign of a past accident. Dawn 
is a herald of sunrise. Sleekness is a sign of frequent and 
plentiful food. 

All the examples here adduced are natural signs. A natural 
sign is a part of a greater event, or of a complex condition, and 
to an experienced observer it signifies the rest of that situation 
of which it is a notable feature. It is a symptom of a state of 


The logical relation between a sign and its object is a very 
simple one: they are associated, somehow, to form a pair; that 
is to say, they stand in a one-to-one correlation. To each sign 
there corresponds one definite item which is its object, the 
thing (or event, or condition) signified. All the rest of that 
important function, signification, involves the third term, the 
subject, which uses the pair of items; and the relation of the 
subject to the other two terms is much more interesting than 
their own bare logical coupling. The subject is related, essen- 
tially, to the other two terms as a pair. What characterizes 
them is the fact that they are paired. Thus, a white bump on 
a person's arm, as a mere sense-datum, would probably not be 
interesting enough even to have a name, but such a datum 
in its relation to the past is noted and called a "scar." Note, 
however, that although the subject's relation is to the pair of 
other terms, he has also a relation to each one of them indi- 
vidually, which makes one of them the sign and the other 
the object. What is the difference between a sign and its ob- 
ject, by virtue of which they are not interchangeable? Two 
terms merely associated as a pair, like two socks, two balances 
of a scale, two ends of a stick, etc., could be interchanged 
without any harm. 

The difference is, that the subject for which they constitute 
a pair must find one more interesting than the other, and the 
latter more easily available than the former. If we are inter- 
ested in tomorrow's weather, the events now present, if 

^ There is a fine distinction between sign and symptom, in that the object signi- 
fied by a symptom is the entire condition of which the symptom is a proper part; 
e.g.. red spots are a symptom of measles, and "measles" is the entire condition 
begetting and including the red spots. A sign, on the other hand, may be one part 
of a total condition, which we associate with another separate part. Thus a ring 
round the moon is part of a weather condition, but what it signifies is rain — another 
proper part — and not the entire state of "low-pressure" weather. 



coupled with tomorrow's weather-phenomena, are signs for us. 
A ring round the moon, or "mares' tails" in the sky, are not 
important in themselves; but as visible, present items coupled 
with something important but not yet present, they have 
"meaning." If it were not for the subject, or interpretant, 
sign and object would be interchangeable. Thunder may just 
as well be a sign that there has been lightning, as lightning 
may signify that there will be thunder. In themselves they are 
merely correlated. It is only where one is perceptible and the 
other (harder or impossible to perceive) is interesting, that 
we actually have a case of signification belonging to a term.^ 
Now, just as in nature certain events are correlated, so that 
the less important may be taken as signs of the more impor- 
tant, so we may also produce arbitrary events purposely corre- 
lated with important ones that are to be their meanings. A 
whistle means that the train is about to start. A gunshot means 
that the sun is just setting. A crepe on the door means someone 
has just died. These are artificial signs, for they are not part 
of a condition of which they naturally signify the remainder 
or something in the remainder. Their logical relation to their 
objects, however, is the same as that of natural signs — a one- 
to-one correspondence of sign and object, by virtue of which 
the interpretant, who is interested in the latter and perceives 
the former, may apprehend the existence of the term that in- 
terests him. 

The interpretation of signs is the basis of animal intelli- 
gence. Animals presumably do not distinguish between natu- 
ral signs and artificial or fortuitous signs; but they use both 
kinds to guide their practical activities. We do the same thing 
aU day long. We answer bells, watch the clock, obey warning 
signals, follow arrows, take off the kettle when it whistles, 
come at the baby's cry, close the windows when we hear thun- 
der. The logical basis of all these interpretations, the mere 
correlation of trivial events with important ones, is really 
very simple and common; so much so that there is no limit to 
what a sign may mean. This is even more obviously true of 
artificial signs than of natural ones. A shot may mean the 
beginning of a race, the rise of the sun, the sighting of danger, 
the commencement of a parade. As for bells, the world is mad 
with their messages. Somebody at the front door, the back 
door, the side door, the telephone — toast is ready — typewriter 
line is ended — school begins, work begins, church begins, 
church is over — street car starts — cashbox registers — knife 

'Cf. Whitehead, Symbolism, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1927), pp. 9-13. 



grinder passes — time for dinner, time to get up — fire in 


Because a sign may mean so many things, we are very apt to 
misinterpret it, especially when it is artificial. Bell signals, 
of course, may be either wrongly associated with their objects, 
or the sound of one bell may actually be confused with that 
of another. But natural signs, too, may be misunderstood. 
Wet streets are not a reliable sign of recent rain if the sprin- 
kler wagon has passed by. The misinterpretation of signs is the 
simplest form of mistake. It is the most important form, for 
purposes of practical life, and the easiest to detect; for its 
normal manifestation is the experience called disappointment. 

Where we find the simplest form of error, we may expect to 
find also, as its correlate, the simplest form of knowledge. This 
is, indeed, the interpretation of signs. It is the most elemen- 
tary and most tangible sort of intellection; the kind of knowl- 
edge that we share with animals, that we acquire entirely by 
experience, that has obvious biological uses, and equally ob- 
vious criteria of truth and falsehood. Its mechanism may be 
conceived as an elaboration of the conditioned-reflex arc, with 
the brain doing switchboard duty, and getting the right or the 
wrong number for the sense organ that called up the muscula- 
ture and expects an answer in terms of altered sensations. It 
has all those virtues of simplicity, componability, and intelli- 
gibility that recommend a concept for scientific purposes. So 
it is not surprising that students of genetic psycholosy have 
seized upon sign interpretation as the archetype of all knowl- 
edge, that they regard signs as the original bearers of meaning, 
and treat all other terms with semantic properties as sub- 
species — "substitute signs," which act as proxy for their ob- 
jects and evoke conduct appropriate to the latter instead of 
to themselves. 

But "substitute signs," though they may be classed with 
symbols, are of a very specialized sort, and play only a meagre 
and restricted part in the whole process of mental life. I shall 
return to them later, in discussing the relationship between 
symbols and signs, for they do stand with a foot in either 
domain. First, however, the characteristics of symbols in gen- 
eral, and their essential difference from signs, must go on 

A term which is used symbolically and not signally does 
not evoke action appropriate to the presence of its object. If 
I say: "Napoleon," you do not bow to the conqueror of Europe 
as though I had introduced him, but merely think of him. If 



I mention a Mr. Smith of our common acquaintance, you may 
be led to tell me something about him "behind his back," 
which is just what you would not do in his presence. Thus 
the symbol for Mr. Smith — his name — may very well initiate 
an act appropriate peculiarly to his absence. Raised eyebrows 
and a look at the door, interpreted as a sign that he is coming, 
would stop you in the midst of your narrative; that action 
would be directed toward Mr. Smith in person. 

Symbols are not proxy for their objects, but are vehicles for 
the conception of objects. To conceive a thing or a situation is 
not the same thing as to "react toward it" overtly, or to be 
aware of its presence. In talking about things we have con- 
ceptions of them, not the things themselves; and it is the con- 
ceptions, not the things, that symbols directly "mean." 
Behavior toward conceptions is what words normally evoke; 
this is the typical process of thinking. 

Of course a word may be used as a sign, but that is not its 
primary role. Its signific character has to be indicated by some 
special modification — by a tone of voice, a gesture (such as 
pointing or staring), or the location of a placard bearing the 
word. In itself it is a symbol, associated with a conception,'' 
not directly with a public object or event. The fundamental 
difference between signs and symbols is this difference of asso- 
ciation, and consequently of their use by the third party to the 
meaning function, the subject; signs announce their objects to 
him, whereas symbols lead him to conceive their objects. The 
fact that the same item — say, the little mouthy noise we call a 
"word" — may serve in either capacity, does not obliterate the 
cardinal distinction between the two functions it may assume. 

The simplest kind of symbolistic meaning is probably that 
which belongs to proper names. A personal name evokes a 
conception of something given as a unit in the subject's experi- 
ence, something concrete and therefore easy to recall in imagi- 
nation. Because the name belongs to a notion so obviously and 
unequivocally derived from an individual object, it is often 
supposed to "mean" that object as a sign would "mean" it. 
This belief is reinforced by the fact that a name borne by a 
living person always is at once a symbol by which we think 
of the person, and a call-name by which we signal him. 

" Note that I have called the terms of our thinking conceptions, not concepts. 
Concepts are abstract forms embodied in conceptions; their bare presentation may 
be approximated by so-called "abstract thought, but in ordinary mental life they 
no more figure as naked factors than skeletons are seen walking the street. Con- 
cepts, like decent living skeletons, are always embodied — sometimes rather too 
much. 1 shall return to the topic of pure concepts later on, in discussing com- 



Through a confusion of these two functions, the proper name 
is often deemed the bridge from animal semantic, or sign- 
using, to human language, which is symbol-using. Dogs, we 
are told, understand names — not only their own, but their 
masters'. So they do, indeed; but they understand them only 
in the capacity of call-names. If you say "James" to a dog 
whose master bears that name, the dog will interpret the 
sound as a sign, and look for James. Say it to a person who 
knows someone called thus, and he will ask: "What about 
James?" That simple question is forever beyond the dog; 
signification is the only meaning a name can have for him — 
a meaning which the master's name shares with the master's 
smell, with his footfall, and his characteristic ring of the door- 
bell. In a human being, however, the name evokes the con- 
ception of a certain man so called, and prepares the mind for 
further conceptions in which the notion of that man figures; 
therefore the human being naturally asks: "What about 

There is a famous passage in the autobiography of Helen 
Keller, in which this remarkable woman describes the dawn of 
Language upon her mind. Of course she had used signs be- 
fore, formed associations, learned to expect things and identify 
people or places: but there was a great day when all sign- 
meaning was eclipsed and dwarfed by the discovery that a 
certain datum in her limited sense-world had a denotation, 
that a particular act of her fingers constituted a word. This 
event had required a long preparation; the child had learned 
many finger acts, but they were as yet a meaningless play. 
Then, one day, her teacher took her out to walk — and there 
the great advent of Language occurred. 

"She brought me my hat," the memoir reads, "and I knew 
I was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a 
wordless sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and 
skip with pleasure. 

"We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by 
the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. 
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand 
under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over my hand she 
spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rap- 
idly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of 
her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of some- 
thing forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow 
the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that 
w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing 


over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it 
light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, 
but barriers that in time could be swept away. 

"I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a 
name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we 
returned to the house every object which I touched seemed 
to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with 
the strange, new sight that had come to me." ^ 

This passage is the best affidavit we could hope to find for 
the genuine difference between sign and symbol. The sign is 
something to act upon, or a means to command action; the 
symbol is an instrument of thought. Note how Miss Keller 
qualifies the mental process just preceding her discovery of 
words — "This thought, if a wordless sensation may be called 
a thought. " Real thinking is possible only in the light of genu- 
ine language, no matter how limited, how primitive; in her 
case, it became possible with the discovery that "w-a-t-e-r" 
was not necessarily a sign that water was wanted or expected, 
but was the name of this substance, by which it could be men- 
tioned, conceived, remembered. 

Since a name, the simplest type of symbol, is directly asso- 
ciated with a conception, and is employed by a subject to 
realize the conception, one is easily led to treat a name as a 
"conceptual sign." an artificial sign which announces the pres- 
ence of a certain idea. In a sense this is quite justified; yet it 
strikes a strained and unnatural note, which is usually a fair 
warning that the attempted interpretation misses the most im- 
portant feature in its material. In the present case, it misses 
the relation of conceptions to the concrete world, which is so 
close and so important that it enters into the very structure of 
"names." A name, above all, denotes something. "James" 
may represent a conception, but names a certain person. In 
the case of proper nouns this relation of the symbol to what 
it denotes is so striking that denotation has been confused 
with the direct relation of sign and object, signification. As 
a matter of fact, "James" does not, without further ado, sig- 
nify a person; it denotes him — it is associated with a concep- 
tion which "fits" the actual person. The relation between a 
symbol and an object, usually expressed by "S denotes O," 
is not a simple two-termed relation which S has to O; it is a 
complex affair: S is coupled, for a certain subject, with a con- 
ception that fits O, i.e. with a notion which O satisfies. 

' Helen Keller, The Story of My life (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 
1936; 1st ed. 1902), pp. 23-24, 



In an ordinary sitrn-function, there are three essential terms: 
subject, sign, and object. In denotation, which is the simplest 
kind of symbol-function, there have to be four: subject, sym- 
bol, conception and object. The radical difference between 
sign-meaning and symbol-meaning can therefore be logically 
exhibited, for it rests on a difference of pattern, it is strictly a 
different function.* 

Denotation is, then, the complex relationship which a name 
-has to an obiect which bears it; but what shall the more direct 
relation of the name, or symbol, to its associated conception 
be called? It shall be called by its traditional name, connota- 
tion. The connotation of a word is the conception it conveys. 
Because the connotation remains with the symbol when the 
object of its denotation is neither present nor looked for, we 
are able to tliink about the object without reacting to it overtly 
at all. 

Here, then, are the three most familiar meanings of the one 
word, "meaning": signification, denotation, and connotation. 
All three are equally and perfectly legitimate, but in no pos- 
sible way interchangeable. 

In every analysis of sign-using or symbol-using, we must 
be able to account not only for the genesis of knowledge, but 
also of that most human characteristic, error. How sign-inter- 
pretation can miscarry, has already been shown; but failures 
of denotation, or confusions of connotation, are unfortunately 
just as common, and have a claim to our attention, too. 

There is a psychological act involved in every case of deno- 
tation, which might be called the application of a term to an 
obiect. The word "water," for instance, denotes a certain 
substance because people conventionally apply it to that sub- 
stance. Such application has fixed its connotation. We may 
ask, quite reasonably, whether a certain colorless liquid is or 
is not water, but hardly whether water "really" means that 
substance which is found in ponds, falls from the clouds, has 
the chemical constitution H,0, etc. The connotation of the 
word, though derived from an age-long application, is more 
definite now than some cases of the word's applicability. 
When we have misapplied a term, i.e. applied it to an object 
that does not satisfy its connotation, we do not say that the 
term "denoted" that object; one feature in the tetradic mean- 

" If a Eymbol could be said normally to "signify" anything, Us object would 
b* the occuiTence of an act of conception. But such a inunction of a symbol is 
casual, and crosses with its use as a symbol. In the latter function it is not the act 
of conception, but 'ifihat is conceived, that enters into the meaning-pattern. We 
shall avoid much confusion and quibbling by recognizing that signification does not 
figure in symbolization at all- 


ing-relation is missing, so there is no real denotation — only a 
psychological act of application, and that was a mistake. The 
word "water" was never guilty of denoting the drink that 
undid little Willy, in the pathetic laboratory rhyme: 

We had a little Willy, 

Now Willy is no more. 

For what he thought was H20 

Was H2SO4. 

Willy had mistaken one object for another; he misapplied a 
term of which he knew the connotation well enough. But 
since connotations are normally fixed upon a word, originally, 
by its application to certain things, whose properties are but 
vaguely known, we may also be mistaken about the connota- 
tion, when we use the term as a vehicle of thought. We may 
know that the symbol "James" applies to our next-door neigh- 
bor, and quite mistakenly suppose it connotes a man with all 
sorts of virtues or frailties. This time we are not mistaking 
James for someone else, but we are mistaken about James. 

It is a pecularity of proper names that they have a dijferent 
connotation for every denotation. Because their connotation 
is not fixed, they can be arbitrarily applied. In itself, a proper 
name has no connotation at all; sometimes it acquires a very 
general sort of conceptual meaning — it connotes a gender, or 
race, or confession (e.g. "Christian," "Wesley," "Israel") — 
but there is no actual mistake involved in calling a boy 
"Marion," a girl "Frank," a German "Pierre," or a Jew "Lu- 
ther." In civilized society the connotation of a proper name is 
not regarded as a meaning applying to the bearer of the name; 
when the name is used to denote a certain person it takes on 
the connotation required by that function. In primitive soci- 
eties this is less apt to be the case; names are often changed 
because their accepted connotations do not fit the bearer. The 
same man may in turn be named "Lightfoot," "Hawkeye," 
"Whizzing Death," etc. In an Indian society, the class of men 
named "Hawkeye" would very probably be a subclass of the 
class "sharp-eyed men." But in our own communities ladies 
named "Blanche" do not have to be albinos or even platinum 
blondes. A word that functions as a proper noun is excused 
from the usual rules of application. 

So much, then, for the venerable "logic of terms." It ap- 
pears a little more complicated than in the medieval books, 
since we must add to the long-recognized functions, connota- 
tion and denotation, a third one, signification, which is fun- 
damentally different from the other two; and since, moreover, 



in discussing the semantic functions of terms we have made 
the rare discovery that they really are junctions, not powers 
or mysterious properties or what-not, and have treated them 
accordingly. The traditional "logic of terms" is really a meta- 
physic of meaning; the new philosophy of meaning is first 
of all a logic of terms — of signs and symbols — an analysis of 
the relational patterns in which "meaning" may be sought. 

But a semantic of separate symbols is only a rudimentary 
foundation for a more interesting aspect of meaning. Every- 
thing is mere propaedeutic until we come to discourse. It is 
in discursive thinking that truth and falsehood are born. Be- 
fore terms are built into propositions, they assert nothing, 
preclude nothing; in fact, although they may name things, 
and convey ideas of such things, they say nothing. I have dis- 
cussed them at such great length simply because most logicians 
have given them such cavalier treatment that even so obvious 
a distinction as that between sign-functions and symbol-func- 
tions passed unnoticed ; so that careless philosophers have been 
guilty of letting ambitious genetic psychologists argue them 
from the conditioned reflex to the wisdom of G. Bernard 
Shaw, all in one skyrocketing generalization. 

The logic of discourse has been much more adequately 
handled— so well, in fact, that practically nothing I have to 
say about it is new; yet it must at least be brought to mind 
here, because an understanding of discursive symbolism, the 
vehicle of propositional thinking, is essential to any theory of 
human mentality; for without it there could be no literal 
meaning, and therefore no scientific knowledge. 

Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language knows that 
the study of its vocabulary alone will not make him master 
of the new tongue. Even if he were to tnemorize a whole 
dictionary, he would not be able to make the simplest state- 
ment correctly; for he could not form a sentence without cer- 
tain principles of grammar. He must know that some words 
are nouns and some are verbs; he must recognize some as ac- 
tive or passive forms of verbs, and know the person and num- 
ber they express; he must know where the verb stands in the 
sentence in order to make the sense he has in mind. Mere sepa- 
rate names of things (even of actions, which are "named" by 
infinitives) do not constitute a sentence. A string of words 
which we might derive by running our eye down the left-hand 
column in the dictionary — for instance, "especially espouse 
espringal espry esquire" — does not say anything. Each word 
has meaning, yet the series of words has none. 


Grammatical structure, then, is a further source of signifi- 
cance. We cannot call it a symbol, since it is not even a term; 
but it has a symboli fie mission. It ties together several sym- 
bols, each with at least a fragmentary connotation of its own, 
to make one complex term, whose meaning is a special con- 
stellation of all the connotations involved. What the special 
constellation is, depends on the syntactical relations within the 
complex symbol, or proposition. 

Propositional structure has commanded more interest among 
logicians of the present generation than any other aspect of 
symbolism. Ever since Bertrand Russell * pointed out that the 
Aristotelian metaphysic of substance and attribute is a counter- 
part of the Aristotelian logic of subject and predicate — that 
the common-sense view of things and properties, agent and 
patient, object and action, etc., is a faithful counterpart of that 
common-sense logic embodied in our parts of speech — the ties 
•between expressibility and conceivability, forms of language 
and forms of experience, propositions and facts, have been 
drawn closer and closer. It has become apparent that a propo- 
sition fits a fact not only because it contains names for the 
things and actions involved in the fact, but also because it 
combines them in a pattern analogous, somehow, to the pat- 
tern in which the named objects are "in fact" combined. A 
proposition is a picture of a structure — the structure of a state 
of affairs. The unity of a proposition is the same sort of unity 
that belongs to a picture, which presents one scene, no matter 
how many items may be distinguishable within it. 

What property must a picture have in order to represent 
its object? Must it really share the visual appearance of the 
obiect? Certainly not to any high degree. It may, for instance, 
be black on white, or red on grey, or any color on any other 
color; it may be shiny whereas the object is dull; it may be 
much larger or much smaller than the object; it is certainly 
flat, and although the tricks of perspective sometimes give a 
perfect illusion of three-dimensionality, a picture without per- 
spective— e.g. an architect's "elevation drawing" — is still un- 
mistakably a picture, representing an object. 

The reason for this latitude is that the picture is essentially 
a symbol, not a duplicate, of what it represents. It has certain 
salient features by virtue of which it can function as a symbol 
for its object. For instance, the childish outline drawing (fig. 
1) on page 56 is immediately recognized as a rabbit, yet it 

• A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz (Cambridge, 1900). See 
p. 12. 



really looks so unlike one that even a person nearly blind 
could not for a moment be made to think that he saw a rabbit 
sitting on the open page of his book. All it shares with the 
"reality" is a certain proportion of parts — the position and 
relative length of "ears," the dot where an "eye" belongs, the 
"head" and "body" in relation to each other, etc. Beside it is 
exactly the same figure with different ears and tail (fig. 2) ; 
any child will accept it as a cat. Yet cats don't look like long- 
tailed, short-eared rabbits, in reality. Neither are they flat and 

white, with a papery texture and a black outline running round 
them. But all these traits of the pictured cat are irrelevant, 
because it is merely a symbol, not a pseudo-cat. 

Of course, the more detail is depicted by the image, the 
more unequivocal becomes the reference to a particular object. 
A good portrait is "true" to only one person. Yet even good 
portraits are not duplications. There are styles in portraiture 
as there are in any other art. We may paint in heightened, 
warm, melting colors, or in cool pastels; we may range from 
the clean line drawings of Holbein to the shimmering hues of 
French impressionism; and all the time the object need not 
change. Our presentation of it is the variable factor. 

The picture is a symbol, and the so-called "medium" is a 
type of symbolism. Yet there is something, of course, that re- 
lates the picture to its original, and makes it represent, say, 
a Dutch interior and not the crucifixion. What it may repre- 
sent is dictated purely by its logic — by the arrangement of its 
elements. The disposition of pale and dark, dull and bright 
paints, or thin and thick lines and variously shaped white 

Tolstoi relates a little incident of his childhood which hinges on the sudden 
ingression of irrelevant factors into consciousness, to the detriment of artistic 
appreciation; I quote it here Iiecause it is quite the most charming record I have 
found of a semanlic muddle: 

"We settled ourselves about the round table at our drawing. I had only blue 
paint; nevertheless, I undertook to depict the hunt. After representing, in very 
lively style, a blue boy mounted on a blue horse, and some blue dogs, I was not 
quite sure whether I could paint a blue hare, and ran to Papa in his study to take 
advice on the matter. Papa was reading; and in answer to my question 'Are there 
any blue hares?' he said, niihoul raismg his head, 'Yes, my dear there are.' 1 
went back to the round table and painted a blue hare. . . ." L. N. Tolstoi, Child- 
hood, Boyhood and Youth. 

Fig. 1 

Fig. 2 

spaces, yield the determination of those forms that mean cer- 
tain objects. They can mean all those and only those objects 
in which we recognize similar forms. All other aspects of the 
picture — for instance, what artists call the "distribution of 
values," the "technique," and the "tone" of the whole work 
— serve other ends than mere representation. The only char- 
acteristic that a picture must have in order to be a picture of a 
certain thing is an arrangement of elements analogous to the 
arrangement of salient visual elements in the object. A repre- 
sentation of a rabbit must have long ears; a man must feature 
arms and legs. 

In the case of a so-called "realistic" picture, the analogy 
goes into great detail, so great that many people believe a 
statue or a painting to be a copy of its object. But consider 
how we meet such vagaries of style as modem commercial 
art produces: ladies with bright green faces and aluminum 
hair, men whose heads are perfect circles, horses constructed 
entirely of cylinders. We still recognize the objects they de- 
pict, as long as we find an element to stand for the head and 
one for the eye in the head, a white mark to connote a starched 
bosom, a line placed where it may represent an arm. With 
amazing rapidity your vision picks up these features and lets 
the whole fantasy convey a human form. 

One step removed from the "styled" picture is the diagram. 
Here any attempt at imitating the parts of an object has been 
given up. The parts are merely indicated by conventional 
symbols, such as dots, circles, crosses, or what-not. The only 
thing that is "pictured" is the relation of the parts to each 
ether. A diagram is a "picture" only of a form. 

Consider a photograph, a painting, a pencil sketch, an 
architect's elevation drawing, and a builder's diagram, all 
showing the front view of one and the same house. With a 
little attention, you will recognize the house in each repre- 
sentation. Why? 

Because each one of the very different images expresses 
the same relation of parts, which you have fastened on in 
formulating your conception of the house. Some versions 
show more such relations than others ; they are more detailed. 
But those which do not show certain details at least show no 
others in place of these, and so it may be understood that the 
details are there left out. The things shown in the simplest 
picture, the diagram, are all contained in the more elaborate 
renderings. Moreover, they are contained in your conception 
of the house; so the pictures all answer, in their several ways, 



to your conception, although the latter may contain further 
items that are not pictured at all. Likewise, another person's 

conception of that same house will agree in its essential pat- 
tern with the pictures and with your conception, however 
many private aspects it may have. 

It is by virtue of such a fundamental pattern, which all 
correct conceptions of the house have in common, that we 
can talk together about the "same" house despite our private 
differences of sense-experience, feeling, and purely personal 
associations. That which all adequate conceptions of an object 
must have in common, is the concept of the object. The same 
concept is embodied in a multitude of conceptions. It is a 
form that appears in all versions of thought or imagery that 
can connote the object in question, a form clothed in different 
integuments of sensation for every different mind. Probably 
no two people see anything just alike. Their sense organs 
differ, their attention and imagery and feelings differ so that 
they cannot be supposed to have identical impressions. But 
if their respective conceptions of a thing (or event, or person, 
etc.) embody the same concept, they will understand each 

A concept is all that a symbol really conveys. But just as 
quickly as the concept is symbolized to us, our own imagina- 
tion dresses it up in a private, personal conception, which we 
can distinguish from the communicable public concept only 
by a process of abstraction. Whenever we deal with a concept 
we must have some particular presentation of it, through 
which we grasp it. What we actually have "in mind" is always 
universalium in re. When we express this universalium we 
use another symbol to exhibit it, and still another res will 
embody it for the mind that sees through our symbol and 
apprehends the concept in its own way. 

The power of understanding symbols, i.e. of regarding 
everything about a sense-datum as irrelevant except a certain 
form that it embodies, is the most characteristic mental trait 
of mankind. It issues in an unconscious, spontaneous process 
of abstraction, which goes on all the time in the human mind: 
a process of recognizing the concept in any configuration 
given to experience, and forming a conception accordingly. 
That is the real sense of Aristotle's definition of man as "the 
rational animal." Abstractive seeing is the foundation of our 
rationality, and is its definite guarantee long before the dawn 
of any conscious generalization or syllogism.*'^ It is the func- 

" Cf. Th. Ribot, Essai sur I'imagination creatrice (Paris, 1921; 1st ed, 1900), 
p. 14. 


tion which no other animal shares. Beasts do not read sym- 
bols; that is why they do not see pictures. We are sometimes 
told that dogs do not react even to the best portraits because 
they live more by smell than by sight; but the behavior of a 
dog who spies a motionless real cat through the window glass 
belies this explanat!<j|^ Dogs scorn our paintings because 
they see colored canvases, not pictures. A representation of a 
cat does not make them conceive one. 

Since any single sense-datum can, logically, be a symbol 
for any single item, any arbitrary mark or counter may con- 
note the conception, or publicly speaking: the concept, of any 
single thing, and thus denote the thing itself. A motion of 
fingers, apprehended as one unit performance, became the 
name of a substance to little deaf-and-blind Helen Keller. A 
word, likewise taken as a sound-unit, becomes a symbol to 
us, for some item in the world. And now the power of seeing 
configurations as symbols comes into play: we make patterns 
of denotative symbols, and they promptly symbolize the very 
different, but analogous, configurations of denoted things. A 
temporal order of words stands for a relational order of 
things. When pure word-order becomes insufficient, word- 
endings and prefixes "mean" relationships; from these are 
bom prepositions and other purely relational symbols. just 
as mnemonic dots and crosses, as soon as they denote objects, 
can also enter into diagrams or simple pictures, so do sounds, 
as soon as they are words, enter into word-pictures, or sen- 
tences. A sentence is a symbol for a state of affairs, and pic- 
tures its character. 

Now, in an ordinary picture, the terms of the represented 
complex are symbolized by so many visual items, i.e. areas 
of color, and their relations are indicated by relations of these 
items. So painting, being static, can present only a momentary 
state; it may suggest, but can never actually report, a history. 
We may produce a series of pictures, but nothing in the pic- 
tures can actually guarantee the conjunction of their several 
scenes in one serial order of events. Five baby-pictures of the 
little Dionne sisters in various acts may be taken either as a 
series representing successive acts of one child, or as sepa- 
rate views of five little girls in characteristic activities. There 
is no sure way of choosing between these two interpretations 
without captions or other indications. 

But most of our interests center upon events, rather than 

'= See Philip Wegener, Vnter sue kun gen uber die Grundfragendes Sprachlebens 
(Halle a,'s., 1885), esp. pp. 88-89; also Karl Buhler, Sprachtheorie (Jena, 1934), 
chs. ill and iv. 


upon things in static spatial relations. Causal connections, ac- 
tivities, time, and change are what we want most of all to 
conceive and communicate. And to this end pictures are poorly 
suited. We resort, therefore, to the more powerful, supple, 
and adaptable symbolism of language. 

How are relations expressed in language ? For the most part, 
they are not symbolized by other relations, as in pictures, but 
are named, just like substantives. We name two items, and 
place the name of a relation betw.'een; this means that the re- 
lation holds the two items together. "Brutus killed Caesar" 
indicates that "killing" holds between Brutus and Caesar. 
Where the relation is not symmetrical, the word-order and 
the grammatical forms (case, mood, tense, etc.) of the words 
symbolize its direction. "Brutus killed Caesar" means some- 
thing different from "Caesar killed Brutus," and "Killed 
Caesar Brutus" is not a sentence at all. The word-order partly 
determines the sense of the structure. 

The trick of naming relations instead of illustrating them 
gives language a tremendous scope; one word can thus take 
care of a situation that would require a whole sheet of draw- 
ings to depict it. Consider the sentence, "Your chance of 
winning is one among a thousand of losing." Imagine a pic- 
torial expression of this comparatively simple proposition! 
First, a symbol for "you, winning" ; another for "you, losing," 
pictured a thousand times! Of course a thousand anythings 
would be far beyond clear apprehension on a basis of mere 
visual Gestalt. We can distinguish three, four, five, and per- 
haps somewhat higher numbers as visible patterns, for in- 

« • * ■ * 

.« ' • • • • 

But a thousand becomes mereiy "a great number." Its exact 
fixation requires an order of concepts in which it holds a 
definite place, as each number concept does in our number 
system. But to denote such a host of concepts and keep their 
relations to each other straight, we need a symbolism that can 
express both terms and relationships more economically than 
pictures, gestures, or mnesic signs. 

It was remarked before that symbol and object, having a 
common logical form, would be interchangeable save for 
some psychological factors, namely: that the object is inter- 
esting, but hard to fixate, whereas the symbol is easy of ap- 
prehension though in itself perhaps quite unimportant. Now 


the little vocal noises out of which we make our words are 
extrcmcl)' easy to produce in all sorts of subtle variations, 
and easy to perceive and distinguish. As Bertrand Russell has 
put it, "It is of course largely a matter of convenience that 
we do not use words of other kinds (than vocal) . There is the 
deaf-and-dumb language; a Frenchman's shrug of the shoul- 
ders is a word; in fact, any kind of externally perceptible 
bodily movement may become a word, if social usage so or- 
dains. But the convention which has given the supremacy to 
speaking is one which has a good ground, since there is no 
other way of producing a number of perceptively different 
bodily movements so quickly or with so little muscular effort. 
Public speaking would be very tedious if statesmen had to 
use the deaf-and-dumb language, and very exhausting if all 
words involved as much muscular effort as a shrug of the 
shoulders." Not only does speech cost little effort, but 
above all it requires no instrument save the vocal apparatus 
and the auditory organs which, normally, we all carry about 
as part of our very selves; so words are naturally available 
symbols, as well as very economical ones. 

Another recommendation for words is that they have no 
value except as symbols (or signs) ; in themselves they are 
completely trivial. This is a greater advantage than philos- 
ophers of language generally realize. A symbol which inter- 
ests us also as an object is distracting. It does not convey its 
meaning without obstruction. For instance, if the word 
"plenty" were replaced by a succulent, ripe, real peach, few 
people could attend entirely to the mere concept of quite 
enough when confronted with such a symbol. The more bar- 
ren and indifferent the symbol, the greater is its semantic 
power. Peaches are too good to act as words; we are too much 
interested in peaches themselves. But little noises are ideal 
conveyors of concepts, for they give us nothing but their 
meaning. That is the source of the "transparency" of lan- 
guage, on which several scholars have remarked. Vocables 
in themselves are so worthless that we cease to be aware of 
their physical presence at all, and become conscious only of 
their connotations, denotations, or other meanings. Our con- 
ceptual activity seems to flow through them, rather than 
merely to accompany them, as it accompanies other experi- 
ences that we endow with significance. They fail to impress 
us as "experiences" in their own right, unless we have diffi- 
culty in using them as words, as we do with a foreign lan- 

is Bertrand Russell, Philosophy (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1927), p. 44. 



guage or a technical jargon until we have mastered it. 

But the greatest virtue of verbal symbols is, probably, their 
tremendous readiness to enter into combinations. There is 
practically no limit to the selections and arrangements we can 
make of them. This is largely due to the economy Lord Russell 
remarked, the speed with which each word is produced and 
presented and finished, making way for another word. This 
makes it possible for us to grasp whole groups of meanings 
at a time, and make a new, total, complex concept out of the 
separate connotations of rapidly passing words. 

Herein lies the power of language to embody concepts not 
only of things, but of things in combination, or situations. 
A combination of words connoting a situation-concept is a 
descriptive phrase; if the relation- word in such a phrase is 
given the grammatical form called a "verb," the phrase be- 
comes a sentence. Verbs are symbols with a double function; 
they express a relation, and also assert that the relation holds. 
i.e. that the symbol has a denotation.** Logically they combine 
the meaning of a function, </>, and an assertion-sign; a verb 
has the force of "assert <h{ )■" 

When a word is given an arbitrary denotation (which maj- 
be a simple thing, or a complex affair) , it is simply a name; 
for instance, in a language of my invention "Moof" might 
mean a cat, a state of mind, or the government of a country. 
I may give that name to anything I like. A name may be awk- 
ward or convenient, ugly or pretty, but in itself it is never 
true or false. But if it already has a connotation, then it can- 
not be given an arbitrary denotation, nor vice versa. I cannot 
use the word "kitten" with its accepted connotation to denote 
an elephant. The application of a word with its connotation 
is the equivalent of a statement: "This is a such-and-such." 
To call an elephant "kitten," not as a proper name but as a 
common noun, is a mistake, because he does not exemplify 
the connoted concept. Similarly a word with a fixed denotation 
carmot be given an arbitrary connotation, for once the word 
is a name (common or proper), to give it a certain connota- 
tion is to predicate the connoted concept of whatever bears the 
name. If "Jumbo" denotes an elephant, it cannot be given the 
connotation "something furry," because Jumbo is presumably 
not furry. 

The relation between connotation and denotation is, there- 
fore, the most obvious seat of truth and falsity. Its conven- 

more detailed discussion of tliis double function may be found in ray 
article. "A Logical Study of Verbs," The Journal of Philosephy, XXW (1927), 


tional expressions are sentences asserting that sometliing is a 
such-and-such, or that something has such-and-such a prop- 
erty; in technical language, propositions of the forms 
"x { y((j>y)," and "<^^." The distinction between these two 
forms lies simply in which aspect of the name we have first 
determined, its connotation or its denotation; truth and 
falsity have the same basis for both kinds of proposition. 

In a complex symbolic structure, such as a sentence con- 
necting several elements with each other by a verb that ex- 
presses an elaborate pattern of relations, we have a "logical 
picture" whose applicability depends on the denotations of 
many words and the connotations of many relation-symbols 
(word-order, particles, cases, etc.). If the names have denota- 
tions, the sentence is about something; then its truth or 
falsity depends on whether any relations actually holding 
among the denoted things exemplify the relational concepts 
expressed by the sentence, i.e. whether the pattern of things 
(or properties, events, etc.) denoted is analogous to the syn- 
tactical pattern of the complex symbol. 

There are many refinements of logic that give rise to spe- 
cial symbol-situations, to ambiguities and odd mathematical 
devices, and to the legion of distinctions which Charles Peirce 
was able to make. But the main lines of logical structure in 
all meaning-relations are those I have just discussed; the cor- 
relation of signs with their meanings by a selective mental 
process; the correlation of symbols with concepts and con- 
cepts with things, which gives rise to a "short-cut" relation 
between names and things, known as denotation; and the as- 
signment of elaborately patterned symbols to certain analogues 
in experience, the basis of all interpretation and thought. 
These are, essentially, the relationships we use in weaving 
the intricate web of meaning which is the real fabric of human 

4. Discursive and Presentational Forms 

THE LOGICAL THEORY on which this whole study of symbols 
is based is essentially that which was set forth by Wittgenstein, 
some twenty years ago, in his Tract at us Logico-Philosophicus : 
"One name stands for one thing, and another for another 
thing, and they are connected together. And so the whole, like 
a living picture, presents the atomic fact. (4.0311) 



"At the first glance the proposition — say as it stands printed 
on paper — does not seem to be a picture of tiie reality of 
which it treats. But neither does the musical score appear at 
lirst sight to be a picture of a musical piece; nor does our 
phonetic spelling (letters) seem to be a picture of our spoken 
language. . . . (4.015) 

"In the fact that there is a general rule by which the musi- 
cian is able to read the symphony out of the score, and that 
there is a rule by which one could reconstruct the symphony 
from the line on a phonograph record and from this again — 
by means of the first rule — construct the score, herein lies the 
internal similarity between the things which at first sight 
seem to be entirely different. And the rule is the law of pro- 
jection which projects the symphony into the language of the 
musical score. It is the rule of translation of this language into 
the language of the gramophone record." (4.0141) 

"Projection" is a good word, albeit a figurative one, for the 
process by which we draw purely logical analogies. Geo- 
metric projection is the best instance of a perfectly faithful 
representation which, without knowledge of some logical rule, 
appears to be a misrepresentation. A child looking at a map 
of the world in Mercator projection cannot help believing 
that Greenland is larger than Australia; he simply finds it 
larger. The projection employed is not the usual principle of 
copying which we use in all visual comparisons or translations, 
and his training in the usual rule makes him unable to "see" 
by the new one. It takes sophistication to "see" the relative 
sizes of Greenland and Australia on a Mercator map. Yet a 
mind educated to appreciate the projected image brings the 
eye's habit with it. After a while, we genuinely "see" the 
thing as we apprehend it. 

Language, our most faithful and indispensable picture of 
human experience, of the world and its events, of thought 
and life and all the march of time, contains a law of projection 
of which philosophers are sometimes unaware, so that their 
reading of the presented "facts" is obvious and yet wrong, 
as a child's visual experience is obvious yet deceptive when 
his judgment is ensnared by the trick of the flattened map. 
The transformation which facts undergo when they are ren- 
dered as propositions is that the relations in them are turned 
into something like objects. Thus, "A killed B" tells of a way 
in which A and B were unfortunately combined; but our only 
means of expressing this way is to name it, and presto! — a 
new entity, "kiUing," seems to have added itself to the com- 


plex of A and B. The event which is "pictured" in the propo- 
sition undoubtedly involved a succession of acts by A and B, 
but not the succession which the proposition seems to exhibit 
■ — first A, then "killing," then B. Surely A and B were simul- 
taneous with each other and with the killing. But words have 
a linear, discrete, successive order; they are strung one after 
another like beads on a rosary; beyond the very limited mean- 
ings of inflections, which can indeed be incorporated in the 
words themselves, we cannot talk in simultaneous bunches of 
names. We must name one thing and then another, and sym- 
bols that are not names must be stuck between or before or 
after, by convention. But these symbols, holding proud places 
in the chain of names, are apt to be mistaken for names, to the 
detriment of many a metaphysical theory. Lord Russell regrets 
that we cannot construct a language which would express all 
relations by analogous relations ; then we would not be tempted 
to misconstrue language, as a person who knows the meaning 
of the Mercator map, but has not used one freely enough to 
"see" in its terms, misconstrues the relative sizes of its areas. 

"Take, say, that lightning precedes thunder," he says. "To 
express this by a language closely reproducing the structure of 
the fact, we should have to say simply: 'lightning, thunder,' 
where the fact that the first word precedes the second means 
that what the first word means precedes what the second word 
means. But even if we adopted this method for temporal order, 
we should still need words for all other relations, because we 
could not without intolerable ambiguity symbolize them by 
the order of our words." ^ 

It is a mistake, I think, to symbolize things by entities too 
much like themselves; to let words in temporal order repre- 
sent things in temporal order. If relations such as temporal 
order are symbolized at all, let the symbols not be those same 
relations themselves. A structure cannot include as part of a 
symbol something that should properly be part of the mean- 
ing. But it is unfortunate that names and syntactical indicators 
look so much alike in language; that we cannot represent ob- 
jects by words, and relations by pitch, loudness, or other 
characteristics of speech.^ 

As it is, however, all language has a form which requires 

'^Philosophy, p, 264. 

* In the same chapter from which I have just quoted. Lord Russell attributes 
ih^ power of lan^uape to represent events to the fact that, like events, it is a 
temporal series. 1 cannot agree with him in this m?tter. It is by virtue of names 
lor relations that we can depict dynamic relations. We do not mention past events 
ear'ier in a sentence than present ones, but subject temporal order to the same 
"projection" as, for instance, attribution or classification; temporal order is usually 
rendered by the syntactical (non-temporal) device of tense. 



us to string out our ideas even though their objects rest one 
within the other; as pieces of clothing that are actually worn 
one over the other have to be strung side by side on the 
clothesline. This property of verbal symbolism is known as 
discursiveness ; by reason of it, only thoughts which can be 
arranged in this peculiar order can be spoken at ail; any idea 
which does not lend itself to this "projection" is ineffable, 
incommunicable by means of words. That is why the laws of 
reasoning, our clearest formulation of exact expression, are 
sometimes known as the "laws of discursive thought." 

There is no need of going further into the details of verbal 
symbolism and its poorer substitutes, hieroglyphs, the deaf- 
and-dumb language, Morse Code, or the highly developed 
drum-telegraphy of certain jungle tribes. The subject has been 
exhaustively treated by several able men, as the many quota- 
tions in this chapter indicate; I can only assent to their 
findings. The relation between word-structures and their 
meanings is, I believe, one of logical analogy, whereby, in 
Wittgenstein's phrase, "we make ourselves pictures of facts." 
This philosophy of language lends rtself, indeed, to great 
technical development, such as Wittgenstein envisaged: 

"In the language of everyday life it very often happens 
that the same word signifies in different ways — and therefore 
belongs to two different symbols — or that two words, which 
signify in different ways, are apparently applied in the same 
way in the proposition. (3.323) 

"In order to avoid these errors, we must employ a symbol- 
ism which excludes them, by not applying the same sign in 
different symbols and by not applying signs in the same way 
which signify in different ways. A symbolism, that is to say, 
which obeys the rules of logical grammar — of logical syntax. 

(The logical symbolism of Frege and Russell is such a lan- 
guage, which, however, does still not exclude all errors.)" 
(3.325) 5 

Camap's admirable book. The Logical Syntax of Language, 
carries out the philosophical program suggested by Wittgen- 
stein. Here an actual, detailed technique is developed for de- 
termining the capacity for expression of any given linguistic 
system, a technique which predicts the limit of all combina- 
tions to be made in that system, shows the equivalence of cer- 
tain forms and the differences, and exhibits the conventions 
to which any thought or experience must submit in order to 
become conveyable by the symbolism in question. The dis- 

' Traclatus. 


tinctions between scientific language and everyday speech, 
which most of us can feel rather than define, are clearly illu- 
mined by Carnap's analysis; and it is surprising to find how 
little of our ordinary communication measures up to the 
standard of "meaning" which a serious philosophy of lan- 
guage, and hence a logic of discursive thought, set before us. 

In this truly remarkable work the somewhat diffuse appre- 
hension of our intellectual age, that symbolism is the key to 
epistemology and "natural knowledge," finds precise and 
practical corroboration. The Kantian challenge; "What can 
I know.?" is shown to be dependent on the prior question: 
"What can I ask?" And the answer, in Professor Carnap's 
formulation, is clear and direct. I can ask whatever language 
will express; I can know whatever experiment will answer. 
A proposition which could not, under any (perhaps ideal, 
impracticable) conditions, be verified or refuted, is a pseudo- 
proposition, it has no literal meaning. It does not belong to 
the framework of knowledge that we call logical conception; 
it is not true or false, but unthinkable, for it falls outside the 
order of symbolism. 

Since an inordinate amount of our talk, and therefore (we 
hope) of our cerebration too, defies the canons of literal 
meaning, our philosophers of language — Russell, Wittgen- 
stein, Carnap, and others of similar persuasions — are faced 
with the new question: What is the true function of those 
verbal combinations and other pseudo-symbolic structures that 
have no real significance, but are freely used as though they 
meant something? 

According to our logicians, those structures are to be treated 
as "expressions" in a different sense, namely as "expressions" 
of emotions, feelings, desires. They are not symbols for 
thought, but symptoms of the inner life, like tears and 
laughter, crooning, or profanity. 

"Many linguistic utterances," says Carnap, "are analogous 
to laughing in that they have only an expressive function, no 
representative function. Examples of this are cries like Oh, 
Oh,' or, on a higher level, lyrical verses. The aim of a lyrical 
poem, in which occur the words 'sunshine' and 'clouds,' is not 
to inform us of certain meteorological facts, but to express 
certain feelings of the poet and to excite similar feelings in us. 
. . . Metaphysical propositions — like lyrical verses — have only 
an expressive function, but no representative function. Meta- 
physical propositions are neither true nor false, because they 
assert nothing. . . . But they are, like laughing, lyrics and mu- 



sic, expressive. They express not so much temporary feelings 
as permanent emotional and volitional dispositions." * 

Lord Russell holds a very similar view of other people's 
metaphysics : 

"I do not deny," he says, "the importance or value, within 
its own sphere, of the kmd of philosophy which is inspired 
by ethical notions. The ethical work of Spinoza, for instance, 
appears to me of the very highest significance, but what is 
valuable in such work is not any metaphysical theory as to 
the nature of the world to which it may give rise, nor indeed 
anything that can be proved or disproved by argument. What 
is valuable is the indication of some new way of feeling 
toward Ufe and the world, some way of feeling by which our 
own existence can acquire more of the characteristics which 
we must deeply desire." ^ 

And Wittgenstein: 

"Most propositions and questions, that have been written 
about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless. We 
cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all, but 
only state their senselessness. Most questions and propositions 
of the philosophers result from the fact that we do not under- 
stand the logic of our language. (4.003) 

"A proposition presents the existence and non-existence of 
atomic facts. (4.1) 

"The totality of true propositions is the total of natural 
science (or the totality of the natural sciences). (4.11) 

"Everything that can be thought at all can be thought 
clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly." 
(4.116) 6 

In their criticism of metaphysical propositions, namely that 
such propositions are usually pseudo-answers to pseudo-ques- 
tions, these logicians have my full assent; problems of "First 
Cause" and "Unity" and "Substance," and all the other time- 
honored topics, are insoluble, because they arise from the fact 
that we attribute to the world what really belongs to the 
"logical projection" in which we conceive it, and by misplac- 
ing our questions we jeopardize our answers. This source of 
bafflement has been uncovered by the philosophers of our day, 
through their interest in the functions and nature of symbol- 
ism. The discovery marks a great intellectual advance. But it 
does not condemn philosophical inquiry as such; it merely 

* Rudolf Carnap, Philosophy and Logical Syntax, (London, 1935; German ed., 
Vienna, 1934) , p. 28. 

"Scientific Method in Philosophy," in Mysticism and Logic (1918), p. 109. 

• Op. cit. 


requires *very philosophical problem to he recast, to be con- 
ceived in a different form. Many issues ttiat seemed to con- 
cern ttie sources of knowledge, for instance, now appear to turn 
partly or wholly on the forms of knowledge, or even the 
forms of expression, of symbolism. The center of philosophi- 
cal interest has shifted once more, as it has shifted several times 
in the past. That does not mean, however, that rational people 
should now renounce metaphysics. The recognition of the in- 
timate relation between symbolism and experience, on which 
our whole criticism of traditional problems is based, is itself a 
metaphysical insight. For metaphysics is, like every philosoph- 
ical pursuit, a study of meanings. From it spring the special 
sciences, which can develop their techniques and verify their 
propositions one by one, as soon as their initial concepts are 
clear enough to allow systematic handling, i.e. as soon as the 
philosophical work behind them is at least tentatively accom- 
plished. Metaphysics is not itself a science with fixed pre- 
suppositions, but progresses from problem to problem rather 
than from premise to consequence. To suppose that we have 
outgrown it is to suppose that all "the sciences" are finally 
established, that human language is complete, or at least soon 
to be completed, and additional facts are all we lack of the 
greatest knowledge ever possible to man; and though this 
knowledge may be small, it is all that we shall ever have. 

This is, essentially, the attitude of those logicians who have 
investigated the limits of language. Nothing that is not "lan- 
guage" in the sense of their technical definition can possess 
the character of symbolic expressiveness (though it may be 
"expressive" in the symptomatic way) . Consequently nothing 
that cannot be "projected" in discursive form is access'ble to 
the human mind at all, and any attempt to understand any- 
thing but demonstrable fact is bootless ambition. The know- 
able is a clearly defined field, governed by the requirement of 
discursive projectability. Outside this domain is the inexpres- 
sible realm of feeling, of formless desires and satisfactions, 
immediate experience, forever incognito and incommunicado. 
A philosopher who looks in that direction is, or should be, a 
mystic; from the ineffable sphere nothine but nonsense can be 
conveyed, since language, our only possible semantic, will not 
clothe experiences that elude the discursive form. 

But intelligence is a slippery custoRier ; if one door is closed 
to it, it finds, or even breaks, another entrance to the world. 

' I have presented a fuller discussion of philosophy as the "mother of sciences" 
in The Practice of PhUtfophy (1930), ch, ii. 


If one symbolism is inadequate, it seizes another; there is no 
eternal decree over its means and methods. So I will go with 
the logisticians and linguists as far as they like, but do not 
promise to go no further. For there is an unexplored possibil- 
ity of genuine semantic beyond the limits of discursive lan- 

This logical "beyond," which Wittgenstein calls the "un- 
speakable," both Russell and Carnap regard as the sphere of 
subjective experience, emotion, feeling, and wish, from which 
only symptoms come to us in the form of metaphysical and 
artistic fancies. The study of such products they relegate to 
psychology, not semantics. And here is the point of my radi- 
cal divergence from them. Where Camap speaks of "cries like 
'Oh, Oh,' or, on a higher level, lyrical verses," I can see only 
a complete failure to apprehend a fundamental disiinction. 
Why should we cry our feelings at such high levels that any- 
one would think we were talking ? * Clearly, poetry means 
more than a cry; it has reason for being articulate; and meta- 
physics is more than the croon with which we might cuddle up 
to the world in a comfortable attitude. We are dealing with 
symbolisms here, and what they express is often highly intel- 
lectual. Only, the form and function of such symbolisms are 
not those investigated by logicians, under the heading of 
"language." The field of semantics is wider than that of lan- 
guage, as certain philosophers — Schopenhauer, Cassirer, Dela- 
croix, Dewey, Whitehead, and some others — have discovered; 
but it is blocked for us by the two fundamental tenets of 
current epistemology, which we have just discussed. 

These two basic assumptions go hand in hand; (1) that 
language " is the only means of articulating thought, and (2) 
that everything which is not speakable thought, is feeling. 
They are linked together because all genuine thinking is sym- 
bolic, and the limits of the expressive medium are, therefore, 
really the limits of our conceptual powers. Beyond these we 
can have only blind feeling, which records nothing and con- 
veys nothing, but has to be discharged in action or self-ex- 
pression, in deeds or cries or other impulsive demonstrations. 

But if we consider how difficult it is to construct a meaning- 
ful language that shall meet neo-positivistic standards, it is 
quite incredible that people should ever say anything at all, 
or understand each other's propositions. At best, human 
thought is but a tiny, grammar-bound island, in the midst of 

* Cf. Urban, Language and Reality, p. 164. 

* Including, of course, its refinements in mathematical and scientific symbolisms, 
and its approximations by gesture, hiero^yphics, or graphs. 


a sea of feeling expressed by "Oh-oh" and sheer babble. The 
island has a periphery, perhaps, of mud — factual and hypo- 
thetical concepts broken down by the emotional tides into the 
"material mode," a mixture of meaning and nonsense. Most 
of us live the better part of our lives on this mudflat; but in 
artistic moods we take to the deep, where we flounder about 
with symptomatic cries that sound like propositions about life 
and death, good and evil, substance, beauty, and other non- 
existent topics. 

So long as we regard only scientific and "material" (semi- 
scientific) thought as really cognitive of the world, this pe- 
culiar picture of mental life must stand. And so long as we 
admit only discursive symbolism as a bearer of ideas, 
"thought" in this restricted sense must be regarded as our only 
intellectual activity. It begins and ends with language; with- 
out the elements, at least, of scientific grammar, conception 
must be impossible. 

A theory which implies such peculiar consequences is itself 
a suspicious character. But the error which it harbors is not 
in its reasoiring. It is in the very premise from which the doc- 
trine proceeds, namely that all articulate symbolism is dis- 
cursive. As Lord Russell, with his usual precision and direct- 
ness, has stated the case, "it is clear that anything that can be 
said in an inflected language can be said in an uninflected 
language; therefore, anything that can be said in language 
can be said by means of a temporal series of uninflected words. 
This places a limitation upon what can be expressed in words. 
It may well be that there are facts which do not lend them- 
selves to this very simple schema; if so, they cannot be ex- 
pressed in language. Our confidence in language is due to the 
fact that it . . . shares the structure of the physical world, and 
therefore can express that structure. But if there be a world 
which is not physical, or not in space-time, it may have a 
structure which we can never hope to express or to know. 
. . . Perhaps that is why we know so much physics and so 
little of anything else." 

Now, I do not believe that "there is a world which is not 
physical, or not in space-time," but I do believe that in this 
physical, space-time world of our experience there are things 
which do not fit the grammatical scheme of expression. But 
they are not necessarily blind, inconceivable, mystical affairs; 
they are simply matters which require to be conceived through 
some symbolistic schema other than discursive language. And 

^- Philosophy, p. 265. 



to demonstrate the possibility of such a non-discursive pattern 
one needs only to review the logical requirements for any 
symbolic structure whatever. Language is by no mean cwr only 
articulate product. 

Our merest sense-experience is a process of formulation. 
The world that actually meets our senses is not a world of 
"things," about which we are invited to discover facts as soon 
as we have codified the necessary logical language to do so; 
the world of pure sensation is so complex, so fluid and full, 
that sheer sensitivity to stimuli would only encounter what 
William James has called (in characteristic phrase) "a bloom- 
ing, buzzing confusion." Out of this bedlam our sense-organs 
must select certain predominant forms, if they are to make re- 
port of things and not of mere dissolving sensa. The eye and 
ear must have their logic — their "categories of understanding," 
if you like the Kantian idiom, or their "primary imagination," 
in Coleridge's version of the same concept. An obiect is not 
a datum, but a form construed by the sensitive and intelligent 
organ, a form which is at once an experienced individual 
thing and a symbol for the concept of it, for this sort of thing. 

A tendency to organize the sensory field into groups and 
patterns of sense-data, to perceive forms rather than a flux of 
light-impressions, seems to be inherent in our receptor appa- 
ratus just as much as in the higher nervous centers with which 
we do arithmetic and logic. But this unconscious appreciation 
of forms is the primitive root of all abstraction, which in turn 
is the keynote of rationality; so it appears that the condi- 
tions for rationality lie deep in our pure animal experience — 
in our power of perceiving, in the elementary functions of our 
eyes and ears and fingers. Mental life begins with our mere 
physiological constitution. A little reflection shows us that, 
since no experience occurs more than once, so-called "re- 
peated" experiences are really analogous occurrences, all fitting 
a form that was abstracted on the first occasion. Familiarity is 
nothing but the quality of fitting very neatly into the form of a 
previous experience. 1 believe our ingrained habit of hypo- 
statizing impressions, of seeing things and not sense-data, rests 
on the fact that we promptly and unconsciously abstract a form 
from each sensory experience, and use this form to conceive 
the experience as a whole, as a "thing." 

No matter what heights the human mind may attain, it can 
work only with the organs it has and the functions peculiar to 

" An excellent discussion of Coleridge's philosophy may be found in D. G. 
James, Skepticism and Poetry ( London, 1937), a. book well worth reading in Con- 
nection with this chapter. 

them. Eyes that 'did not see forms could never furnish it with 
images ; ears that did not hear articulated sounds could never 
open it to words. Sense-data, in brief, would be useless to a 
mind whose activity is "through and through a symbolic proc- 
ess," were they not par excellence receptacles of meaning. But 
meaning, as previous considerations have shown, accrues essen- 
tially to forms. Unless the Gestalt--^sychologists are right in 
their belief that Gestaltmig is of the very nature of perception, 
I do not know how the hiatus between perception and concep- 
tion, sense-organ and mind-organ, chaotic stimulus and logi- 
cal response, is ever to be closed and welded. A mind that 
works primarily with meanings must have organs that supply 
it primarily with forms. 

The nervous system is the organ of the mind ; its center is 
the brain, its extremities the sense-organs; and any character- 
istic function it may possess must govern the work of all its 
parts. In other words, the activity of our senses is "mental" not 
only when it reaches the brain, but in its very inception, when- 
ever the alien world outside impinges on the furthest and small- 
est receptor. All sensitivity bears the stamp of mentality. "See- 
ing," for instance, is not a passive process, by which meaning- 
less impressions are stored up for the use of an organizing 
mind, which construes forms out of these amorphous data to 
suit its own purposes. "Seeing" is itself a process of formula- 
tion; our understanding of the visible world begins in the 

This psychological insight, which we owe to the school of 
Wertheimer, Kohler, and Koffka, has far-reaching philosophi- 
cal consequences, if we take it seriously; for it carries ration- 
ality into processes that are usually deemed pre-rational, and 
points to the existence of forms, i.e. of possible symbolic ma- 
terial, at a level where symbolic activity has certainly never 
been looked for by any epistemologist. The eye and the ear 
make their own abstractions, and consequently dictate their 
own peculiar forms of conception. But these forms are derived 

For a general account of the Gestalt-theory, see Wolfgang Kohler, Gestalt 
Psychology {New York; H. Liveright, 1929), from which the following relevant 
passage is taken: 

"It is precisely the original organization and segregation of circumscribed wholes 
which make it possible for the sensory world to appear so utterly imbued with 
meaning to the adult because, in its gradual entry into the sensory field, meaning 
follows the lines drawn by natural organization. It usually enters into segregated 
wholes. . . , 

"Where 'form' exists originally, it acquires a meaning very easily. But here a 
whole with its form is given first and then a meaning 'creeps into it.' That mean- 
ing automatically produces a form where beforehand there is none, has not been 
shown experimentally in a single case, as far as 1 know." (P. 208.) 

See also Max Wertheimer, Drei Abhandlungcn zur Cestalttheorie (Erlangen, 
1925), and Kurt Koffka, Principles of Cestall Psychology (London, 1935). 



from exactly the same world that furnished the totally differ- 
ent forms known to physics. There is, in fact, no such thing 
as the form of the "real" world; physics is one pattern which 
may be found in it, and "appearance," or the pattern of things 
with their qualities and characters, is another. One construction 
may indeed preclude the other; but to maintain that the con- 
sistency and universality of the one brands the other as false is 
a mistake. The fact that physical analysis does not rest in a 
final establishment of irreducible "qualities" does not refute 
that there are red, blue, and green things, wet or oily or dry 
substances, fragrant flowers, and shiny surfaces in the real 
world. These concepts of the "material mode" are not approxi- 
mations to "physical" notions at all. Physical concepts owe 
their origin and development to the application of mathematics 
to the world of "things," and mathematics never — even in the 
beginning — dealt with qualities of objects. It measured their 
proportions, but never treated its concepts — triangularity, cir- 
cularity, etc. — as quaUties of which so-and-so much could be- 
come an ingredient of certain objects. Even though an ellipti- 
cal race-track may approximate a circle, it is not to be improved 
by the addition of more circularity. On the other hand, wine 
which is not sweet enough requires more sweetening, paint 
which is not bright enough is given an ingredient of more 
white or more color. The world of physics is essentially the 
real world construed by mathematical abstractions, and the 
world of sense is the real world construed by the abstractions 
which the sense-organs immediately furnish. To suppose that 
the "material mode" is a primitive and groping attempt at phy- 
sical conception is a fatal error in epistemology, because it 
cuts off all interest in the developments of which sensuous 
conception is capable, and the intellectual uses to which it 
might be put. 

These intellectual uses lie in a field which usually harbors 
a slough of despond for the philosopher, who ventures into it 
because he is too honest to ignore it, though really he knows 
no path around its pitfalls. It is the field of "intuition," 
"deeper meaning," "artistic truth," "insight," and so forth. A 
dangerous-looking sector, indeed, for the advance of a rational 
spirit! To date, 1 think, every serious epistemology that has 
regarded mental life as greater than discursive reason, and has 
made concessions to "insight" or "intuition," has just so far 
capitulated to unreason, to mysticism and irrationalism. Every 
excursion beyond prepositional thought has dispensed with 
thought altogether, and postulated some inmost soul of pure 


feeling in direct contact with a Reality unsymbolized, unfo- 
cussed, and incommunicable (with the notable exception of 
the theory set forth by L. A. Reid in the last chapter of his 
Knowledge and Truth, which admits the facts of non-proposi- 
tional conception in a way that invites rather than precludes 
logical analysis) . 

The abstractions made by the ear and the eye — the forms 
of direct perception — are our most primitive instruments of 
intelligence. They are genuine symbolic materials, media of 
understanding, by whose office we apprehend a world of 
things, and of events that are the histories of things. To fur- 
nish such conceptions is their prime mission. Our sense-organs 
make their habitual, unconscious abstractions, in the interest 
of this "Vfifying'Tunction that underlies ordinary recognition 
of objects, knowledge of signals, words, tunes, places, and the 
possibility of classifying such things in the outer world ac- 
cording to their kind. We recognize the elements of this sen- 
suous analysis in all sorts of combination; we can use them 
imaginatively, to conceive prospective changes in familiar 

Visual forms — lines, colors, proportions, etc, — are just as 
capable of articulation, i.e. of complex combination, as words. 
But the laws that govern this sort of articulation are altogether 
different from the laws of syntax that govern language. The 
most radical difference is that visual forms are not discursive. 
They do not present their constituents successively, but simul- 
taneously, so the relations determining a visual structure are 
grasped in one act of vision. Their complexity, consequently, is 
not limited, as the complexity of discourse is limited, by what 
the mind can retain from the beginning of an apperceptive act 
to the end of it. Of course such a restriction on discourse sets 
bounds to the complexity of speakable ideas. An idea that con- 
tains too many minute yet closely related parts, too many rela- 
tions within relations, cannot be "projected" into discursive 
form; it is too subtle for speech. A language-bound theory of 
mind, therefore, rules it out of the domain of understanding 
and the sphere of knowledge. 

But the symbolism furnished by our purely sensory appre- 
ciation of forms is a non-discursive symbolism, peculiarly well 
suited to the expression of ideas that defy linguistic "projec- 
tion." Its primary function, that of conceptualizing the flux of 
sensations, and giving us concrete things in place of kaleido- 
scopic colors or noises, is itself an office that no language-born 
thought can replace. The understanding of space which we 



Standard key for translating sculpture into painting, or draw- 
ing into ink-wash, because their equivalence rests on their 
common total reference, not on bit-for-bit equivalences of 
parts such as underlie a literal translation. 

Furthermore, verbal symbolism, unlike the non-discursive 
kinds, has primarily a general reference. Only convention can 
assign a proper narne — and then there is no way of preventing 
some other convention from assigning the same proper name 
to a different individual. We may name a child as oddly as we 
will, yet we cannot guarantee that no one else will ever bear 
that designation. A description may fit a scene ever so closely, 
but it takes some known proper name to refer it without pos- 
sible doubt to one and only one place. Where the names of 
persons and places are withheld, we can never prove that a 
discourse refers — not merely applies — to a certain historic oc- 
casion. In the non-discursive mode that speaks directly to 
sense, however, there is no intrinsic generality. It is first and 
foremost a direct presentation of an individual object. A pic- 
ture has to be schematized if it is to be capable of various 
meanings. In itself it represents just one object — real or 
imaginary, but still a unique object. The definition of a tri- 
angle fits triangles in general, but a drawing always presents 
a triangle of some specific kind and size. We have to abstract 
from the conveyed meaning in order to conceive triangularity 
in general. Without the help of words this generalization, if 
possible at all, is certainly incommunicable. 

It appears, then, that although the different media of non- 
verbal representation are often referred to as distinct "lan- 
guages," this is really a loose terminology. Language in the 
strict sense is essentially discursive; it has permanent units of 
meaning which are combinable into larger units; it has fixed 
equivalences that make definition and translation possible; its 
connotations are general, so that it requires non-verbal acts, 
like pointing, looking, or emphatic voice-inflections, to assign 
specific denotations to its terms. In all these salient characters 
it differs from wordless symbolism, which is non-discursive 
and untranslatable, does not allow of definitions within its 
own system, and cannot directly convey generalities. The 
meanings given through language are successively understood, 
and gathered into a whole by the process called discourse; the 
meanings of all other symbolic elements that compose a larger, 
articulate symbol are understood only through the meaning of 
the whole, through their relations within the total structure. 
Their very functioning as symbols depends on the fact that 


they arc involved in a simultaneous, integral presentation. 
This kind of semantic may be called "presentational symbol- 
ism," to characterize its essential distinction from discursive 
symbolism, or "language" proper.^* 

The recognition of presentational symbolism as a normal 
and prevalent vehicle of meaning widens our conception of 
rationality far beyond the traditional boundaries, yet never 
breaks faith with logic in the strictest sense. Wherever a sym- 
bol operates, there is a meaning; and conversely, different 
classes of experience — say, reason, intuition, appreciation — 
correspond to different types of symbolic mediation. No sym- 
bol is exempt from the office of logical formulation, of 
conceptualizing what it conveys; however simple its import, 
or however great, this import is a meaning, and therefore 
an element for understanding. Such reflection invites one to 
tackle anew, and with entirely different expectations, the whole 
problem of the limits of reason, the much-disputed life of 
feeling, and the great controversial topics of fact and truth, 
knowledge and wisdom, science and art. It brings within the 
compass of reason much that has been traditionally relegated 
to "emotion," or to that crepuscular depth of the mind where 
"intuitions" are supposed to be born, without any midwifery 
of symbols, without due process of thought, to fill the gaps in 
the edifice of discursive, or "rational," judgment. 

The symbolic materials given to our senses, the Gestalten 
or fundamental perceptual forms which invite us to construe 
the pandemonium of sheer impression into a world of things 
and occasions, belong to the "presentational" order. They 
furnish the elementary abstractions in terms of which ordinary 
sense-experience is understood.'^*' This kind of understanding 
is directly reflected in the pattern of physical reaction, impulse 
and instinct. May not the order of perceptual forms, then, be a 
possible principle for symbolization, and hence the conception, 
expression, and apprehension, of impulsive, instinctive, and 

" It is relevant here to note that "picture language," which uses separate 
pictures in place of words, is a discursive symbnlism. though each "word'^ is a 
presentational syinbol; and that all codes, e.g. the conventional gestures of deaf- 
mutes or the drum communications of African tribes, are discursive systerns. 

^* Kant thought that the principles of such formulation were supplied by a 
faculty of the mind, which he called Versland; but his somewhat dogmatic 
delimitation of the field of knowledge open to Verstand. and the fact that he 
regarded the mind-engendered forms as constitutive of experience rather than inter- 
pretive (as principles must be), prevented logicians from taking serious note of 
such forms as possible machinery of reason. They abode by the forms of Vernunft, 
which are, roughly speaking, the forms of discourse. Kant himself exalted Vernunft 
as the special gift and glory of man. When an epistemology of medium and mean- 
log begin to crowd out the older epistemology of percept and concept, his Ver- 
stanatsjormenyn their role of conceptual ingredients of phenomena, were lumped 
with his metaphysical doctrines, ana eclipsed by "jsietalogical" interests. 


sentient life? May not a non-discursive symbolism of light and 
color, or of tone, be formulative of that life? And is it not 
possible that the sort of "intuitive" knowledge which Bergson 
extols above all rational knowledge because it is supposedly 
not mediated by any formulating (and hence deforming) 
s}'mbol 1'" is itself perfectly rational, but not to be conceived 
through language — a product of that presentational symbolism 
which the mind reads in a flash, and preserves in a disposition 
or an attitude? 

This hypothesis, though unfamiliar and therefore some- 
what difficult, seems to me well worth exploring. For, quite 
apart from all questions of the authenticity of intuitive, in- 
herited, or inspired knowledge, about which I do not wish to 
cavil, the very idea of a non-rational source of any knowledge 
vitiates the concept of mind as an organ of understanding. 
"The power of reason is simply the power of the whole mind 
at its fullest stretch and compass," said Professor Creighton, in 
an essay that sought to stem the great wave of irrationalism and 
emotionalism following the first World War.^® This assump- 
tion appears to me to be a basic one in any study of mentality. 
Rationality is the essence of mind, and symbolic transforma- 
tion its elementary process. It is a fundamental error, there- 
fore, to recognize it only in the phenomenon of systematic, 
explicit reasoning. That is a mature and precarious product. 

Rationality, however, is embodied in every mental act, not 
only when the mind is "at its fullest stretch and compass." It 
permeates the peripheral activities of the human nervous sys- 
tem, just as truly as the cortical functions. 

"The facts of perception and memory maintain themselves 
only in so far as they are mediated, and thus given significance 
beyond their mere isolated existence. . . . What falls in any 
way within experience partakes of the rational form of the 
mind. As mental content, any part of experience is something 
more than a particular impression having only the attributes 
of existence. As already baptized into the life of the mind, 
it partakes of its logical nature and moves on the plane of 
universality. . . . 

"No matter how strongly the unity and integrity of the 
mind is asserted, this unity is nothing more than verbal if the 
mind is not in principle the expression of reason. For it can be 

See Henri Bergson, La pemee et le mouvement (Paris, 1934), esp. essays ii 
'De la position des problemes") and iv ("L'intuition philosophique") ; also his 
aai sur let donnies immediate^ de la conscience (1889), and Introduction to 
Metaphysics (Nevi York; G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912). 

" J. K, Creigliton. "Reason and P'eeiing," Philosophical Review, XXX (1921), 
5: 46S-481. See p. 469. 


shown that all attempts to render comprehensible the unity of 
the mental life in terms of an alogical principle fail to attain 
their goal." 

The tide of Professor Creighton's trenchant little article is 
"Reason and Feeling." Its central thesis is that if there is 
something in our mental life besides "reason," by which he 
means, of course, discursive thinking, then it cannot be an 
alogical factor, but must be in essence cognitive, too; and 
since the only alternative to this reason is feeling (the author 
does not question that axiom of epistemology) , feeling itself 
must somehow participate in knowledge and understanding. 

AU this may be granted. The position is well taken. But the 
most crucial problem is barely broached: this problem is epi- 
tomized in the word "somehow." fust how can feelings be 
conceived as possible ingredients of rationality? We are not 
told, but we are given a generous hint, which in the light of 
a broader theory of symbolism points to explanation. 

"In the development of mind," he says, "feeling does not 
remain a static element, constant in form and content at all 
levels, but ... is transformed and disciplined through its inter- 
play with other aspects of experience. . . . Indeed, the charac- 
ter of the feeling in any experience may be taken as an index 
of the mind's grasp of its object; at the lower levels of ex- 
perience, where the mind is only partially or superficially 
involved, feeling appears as something isolated and opaque, 
as the passive accompaniment of mere bodily sensations. . . . 
In the higher experiences, the feelings assume an entirely 
different character, just as do the sensations and the other 
contents of minrf " 

The significant observation voiced in this passage is that 
feelings have definite forms, which become progressively ar- 
ticulated. Their development is effected through their "inter- 
play with the other aspects of experience"; but the nature of 
that interplay is not specified. Yet it is here, I think, that co- 
gency for the whole thesis must be sought. What character of 
feeling is "an index of the mind's grasp of its object," and by 
what tokens is it so? If feeling has articulate forms, what are 
they like? For what these are like determines by what symbol- 
ism we might understand them. Everybody knows that lan- 
guage is a very poor medium for expressing our emotional 
nature. It merely names certain vaguely and crudely conceived 
states, but fails miserably in any attempt to convey the ever- 
moving patterns, the ambivalences and intricacies of inner ex- 

"liid., pp. 470-472. "Ibid., pp. 478-479. 



perience, the interplay of feelings with thoughts and 
impressions, memories and echoes of memories, transieht 
fantasy, or its mere runic traces, all turned into nameless, emo- 
tional stuff. If we say that we understand someone else's 
feeling in a certain matter, we mean that we understand why 
he should be sad or happy, excited or indifferent, in a general 
way; that we can see due cause for his attitude. We do not 
mean that we have insight into the actual flow and balance of 
his feelings, into that "character" which "may be taken as an 
index m the mind's grasp of its object." Language is quite 
inadequate to articulate such a conception. Probably we would 
not impart our actual, inmost feelings even if they could be 
spoken. We rarely speak in detail of entirely personal things. 

There is, however, a kind of symbolism peculiarly adapted 
to the explication of "unspeakable" things, though it lacks the 
cardinal virtue of language, which is denotation. The most 
highly developed type of such purely connotational semantic 
is music. We are not talking nonsense when we say that a 
certain musical progression is significant, or that a given 
phrase lacks meaning, or a player's rendering fails to convey 
the import of a passage. Yet such statements make sense only 
to people with a natural understanding of the medium, whom 
we describe, therefore, as "musical." Musicality is often re- 
garded as an essentially unintellectual, even a biologically 
sportive trait. Perhaps that is why musicians, who know that 
it is the prime source of their mental life and the medium of 
their clearest insight into humanity, so often feel called upon 
to despise the more obvious forms of understanding, that claim 
practical virtues under the names of reason, logic, etc. But in 
fact, musical understanding is not hampered by the posses- 
sion of an active intellect, nor even by that love of pure reason 
which is known as rationalism or intellectualism ; and vice 
versa, common-sense and scientific acumen need not defend 
themselves against any "emotionalism" that is supposed to be 
inherent in a respect for music. Speech and music have essen- 
tially different functions, despite their oft-remarked union in 
song. Their original relationship lies much deeper than any 
such union (of which more will be said in a subsequent chap- 
ter), and can be seen only when their respective natures are 

The problem of meaning deepens at every turn. The longer 
we delve into its difficulties, the more complex it appears. 
But in a central philosophical concept, this is a sign of health. 
Each question answered leads to another which previously 



could not be even entertained; the logic of symbolism, the 
possible types of representation, the fields proper to them, the 
actual functions of symbols according to their nature, their 
relationships to each other, and finally our main theme, their 
integration in human mentality. 

Of course it is not possible to study every known phenome- 
non in the realm of symbolism. But neither is this necessary 
even in an intimate study. The logical structures underlying 
all semantic functions, which I have discussed in this chapter, 
suggest a general principle of division. Signs are logically dis- 
tinct from symbols; discursive and presentational patterns 
show a formal difference. There are further natural divisions 
due to various ways of using symbols, no less important than 
the logical distinctions. Altogether, we may group meaning- 
situations around certain outstanding types, and make these 
several types the subjects of individual studies. Language, rit- 
ual, myth, and music, representing four respective modes, may 
serve as central topics for the study of actual symbolisms; and 
I trust that further problems of significance in art, in science 
or mathematics, in behavior or in fantasy and dream, may 
receive some light by analogy, and by that most powerful 
human gift, the adaptation of ideas. 

/. Language 

LANGUAGE is, without a doubt, the most momentous and at 
the same time the most mysterious product of the human mind. 
Between the clearest animal call of love or warning or anger, 
and a man's least, trivial word, there lies a whole day of 
Creation — or in modern phrase, a whole chapter of evolution. 
In language we have the free, accomphshed use of symbolism, 
the record of articulate conceptual thinking; without language 
there seems to be nothing like explicit thought whatever. All 
races of men — even the scattered, primitive denizens of the 
deep jungle, and brutish cannibals who have lived for cen- 
turies on world-removed islands — have their complete and ar- 
ticulate language. There seem to be no simple, amorphous, or 
imperfect langii.iges, such as one would naturally expect to 
find in conjunction with the lowest cultures. People who have 
not invented textiles, who live under roofs of pleated branches, 
need no privacy and mind no filth and roast their enemies for 



dinner, will yet converse over their bestial feasts in a tongu^ as 
grammatical as Greek, and as fluent as French ! i 

Animals, on the other hand, are one »nd all without speech. 
They communicate, of course; but not by any method that 
can be likened to speaking. They express their emotions and 
indicate their wishes and control one another's behavior by 
suggestion. One ape will take another by the hand and drag 
him into a game or to his bed; he will hold out his hand to 
beg for food, and will sometimes receive it. But even the 
highest apes give no indication of speech. Careful studies have 
been made of the sounds they emit, but all systematic observers 
agree that none of these are denotative, i.e. none of them are 
rudimentary words. ^ Furness, for instance, says: "If these 
animals have a language it is restricted to a very few sounds 
of a general emotional signification. Articulate speech they 
have none and communication with one another is accom- 
plished by vocal sounds to no greater extent than it is by dogs, 
with a growl, a whine, or a bark." ^ Mr. and Mrs. Yerkes, 

^ There are several statements in philological and psychoiogic?! literature to 
the effect that certain primitive races have but a rudimentary language, aatf depend 
en gesture to supplement their speech. All such statements that 1 have founri, 
however, can be traced back to one common source, n-imely Mary H. Kingsley's 
Travels in West Africa (London, 1897). This vi'riter enjoyed so high a reputation 
in other fields than philology that her casual and apparently erroneous observations 
of native languages have oeea accepted rather uncritically by men as learned as 
Sir Rich?,rd Paget. Professor G. F. Stout, and Dr. Israel Latif. Yet Miss Kingsley's 
testimony is very shaky. She tells us (p. 5041 that "the inhabitants of Fernando 
fa, the Biibis, are quite unable to converse with each other unless Ihey have 
sufficient light to see the accompanying gestures of the conver?atirn.'* But in an 
earlier part of the book she writes, T know nothing of it [the Bubt language] 
myself save that it is harsh in sound," and refers the render to the work of Dr. 
Baumann for information about its words and structure; Baumann gives a vocab- 
ulary and grammar that would certainly suffice a European to cany on any 
ordinary conversation in the dark. (See 0. Baumann, "Beitrage zur Kentnis^. der 
Bnbespracbe auf Fernando Poo," Zeitschrijt fur afrrkanische Spracken 1, 1888, 
138-155.) It seems plausible, therefore, that the Bubis find such conversation 
personally or socially "impossible" for some other reasons. Her other example is 
no surer. "When 1 was with the Fans they frequently said. 'We will go to th« 
fire so we can see what they say,' when any question had to be decided after 
dark . . " (p. 504). It is strange that a language in which one can make, in the 
dark, BO complex a statement as: "We wilf go to the fire so we can see what 
they say," should require gesture to complete other propositions; moreover, where 
there is a question to decicTe, it might be awkward for the most civilized congress 
to take a majority vote without switching on the lights. 

I am inclined, therefore, to credit the statement of Edward Sapir, that "the 
gift of speech and a well-ordered language are characteristic of every known group 
of human beines. No tribe has ever been found whi-h is without language and an 
statements to the contrary may be dismissed as mere folklore." After repudiating 
specifically the stories just related, he concludes: ''The truth of the matter is that 
language is an essentially perfect means of expression and communication among 
every known people." (From Article "Language," in Encyclopedia of the Soci^ 
Sciences, by permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers. Cf. Otto jespersen^ 
Language: its Kature Development and Origin London. 1922, p. 413.) 

> In 1892 R. L. Gamer published a book in N'ew York, The Speech ot Uonkeys. 
which aroused considerable interest, for he claimed to have learned a monkey 
vocabulary of about forty words. The book, however, is so fanciful and unscientific, 
and its interpretations so extravagant, that I think it must be discounted in totOf 
especi?>ny as more careful cbservaticns of later scientists belie its findings. 

* W. H. Furness, "Observations on the Mentality of Chimpanzees and Orang- 
Utans," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, LV (1916), 2S1-290. 



who are very reluctant to abandon the search for pre-human 
speech-functions in simians, come to the conclusion that "al- 
though evidence of use of the voice and of definite word-like 
sounds to symbolize feelings, and possibly also ideas, becomes 
increasingly abundant from lemur to ape, no one of the infra- 
human primates exhibits a systematization of vocal symbols 
which may approximately be described as speech." * 

If the apes really used "definite word-like sounds to sym- 
bolize feelings and possibly also ideas," it would be hard to 
deny their power of speech. But aU descriptions of their be- 
havior indicate that they use such sounds only to signify their 
feelings, perhaps their desires. Their vocal expressions of love 
are symptoms of an emotion, not the name of it, nor any other 
symbol that represents it (like the heart on a Valentine) . And 
true language begins only when a sound keeps its reference 
beyond the situation of its instinctive utterance, e.g. when an 
individual can say not only: "My love, my love!" but also: 
"He loves me — he loves me not." Even though Professor 
Yerkes's young apes, Chim and Panzee, met their food with 
exclamations like "Kha!" or "Nga!" these are like a cry of 
"Yum-yum!" rather than: "Banana, to-day." They are sounds 
of enthusiastic assent, of a very speciaUzed emotional reaction ; 
they cannot be used between meals to talk over the merits of 
the feast. 

Undoubtedly one reason for the lack of language in apes is 
their lack of any tendency to babble. Professor and Mrs. Kel- 
logg, who brought up a little chimpanzee, Gua, for nine 
months exactly as they were bringing up their own child, ob- 
served that even in an environment of speaking persons "there 
was no attempt on Gua's part to use her lips, tongue, teeth 
and mouth-cavity in the production of new utterances; while 
in the case of the human subject a continuous vocalized play 
was apparent from the earliest months. . . . There were no 
'random* noises to compare with the baby's prattle or the 
spontaneous chatter of many birds. On the whole, it may be 
said she never vocalized without some definite provocation, 
that is, without a clearly discernible external stimulus or cause. 
And in most cases this stimulus was obviously of an emotional 
character," ^ She had, indeed, what they called her "food- 
bark," and a pathetic "Ooo-oo" of fear; the bark was extended 

< R. M. Yeikes and A. W. Yerkes, The Great Apes (New Haven: Yale Uni- 
versity Press, 1929), p. 569. 

' W. N. Kellogg and L. A. Kellogg, The Ape and the Child (New York: 
McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1933), p. 281. This passage and those from the same book 
quoted on pp. 90, 91, 92 and 93, below, are reproduced by permission of the 
McGraw-Hill Book Co., publishers. 


to signify assent in general, the "Ooo" to express dissent. That 
is as near as she came to language. The child, too, used only a 
few woroj before the comparative experiment ended, but it 
is noteworthy that they were not "yes" and "no," but were 
denoL.t!ve words— "6\n-dm," "Gya" (Gua), and "Daddy." 
The use of true vocables for "yes" and "no" is apt to be late 
in children. Their interest in words centers on names for 
things and actions. 

If we find no prototype of language in our nearest simian 
relatives, the apes, how can we conceive of a beginning for 
this all-important human function? We might suppose that 
speech is man's distinguishing instinct, that man is by nature 
the Linguistic Primate. Horatio Hale expressed this view in a 
presidential address to a learned society, many years ago.* He 
was deeply impressed with a phenomenon that occurs every 
so often — the invention of a spontaneous, individual language 
by a child or a pair of children, a language unrelated to the 
tongue spoken in the household. Some children will persist up 
to school age, or even a little beyond it, in this vagary. Such 
observations led him to believe that man is by nature a lan- 
guage-making creature, and learns his "mother tongue" merely 
by the overwhelming force of suggestion, when he hears a 
ready-made language from earliest infancy. Under the primi- 
tive conditions of nomadic family life, he thought, it might 
weK happen that a group of young children would be or- 
phaned, alone in the wilderness; and where the climate was 
warm and food abundant, such a little company might survive. 
The younger children's language would become the idiom of 
the family. Rather ingeniously he develops this notion as an 
explanation of the many utterly unrelated languages in the 
world, their distribution, and the mystery of their origin. But the 
interesting content of his paper in the present connection in his 
underlying assumption that man makes languages instinctively. 

"The plain conclusion," he says, "to which all examples 
point with irresistible force, is that the origin of linguistic 
stocks is to be found in what may be termed the language- 
making instinct of very young children." 

After citing a case of two children who constructed an en- 
tirely original language, he comments: "There is nothing in 
the example which clearly proves that the children in question 
would have spoken at all if they had not heard their parents 
and others about them communicating by oral sounds — though 

' "The Origin of Languages and tlie Antiquity of Speaking Man," Proceedir.i;s of 
the American Association for Ike Advancement of Science. XXXV (1887), 27';-323. 
' Ibid., p. 285. 



we may, on good grounds (as will be shown), believe that 
they would have done so." * 

The last part of his statement embodies the "instinct the- 
ory" ; and that, so far as we know, is — mere theory. What do 
we know of children who, without being deaf and therefore 
unaware even of their own voices, have grown up without the 
example of people using speech around them? We know very 
little, but that little serves here to give us pause. 

There are a few well-authenticated cases on recotJ of so- 
called "wild children," waifs from infancy in the wilder; ""ss, 
who have managed to survive by their own precocious eftc^'; 
or the motherly care of some large animal. In regions where 
it was (or is) customary to expose undesired infants, babes 
in the wood are not a nine days' wonder. Of course they usu- 
ally die of neglect very soon, or are devoured; but on a few 
known occasions the maternal instinct of a bear or a wolf has 
held the foundling more sacred than did man's moral law, and 
a child has grown up, at least to pre-adolescence, without 
human influence. 

The only well-attested cases are Peter the Wild Boy, found 
in the fields near Hanover in 1723 Victor, known as "the 
Savage of Aveyron," captured in that district of Southern 
France in 1799; and two little girls, Amala and Kamala, 
taken in the vicinity of Midnapur, India, in 1920.^1 Several 
other "wild children" have been reported, but all accounts 
of them require considerable sifting, and some — like Lukas 
the Baboon Boy — prove to be spurious. Even of the ones here 
mentioned, only Victor has been scientifically studied and 
described. One thing, however, we know definitely about all 
of them: none of these children could speak in any tongue, 
remembered or invented. A child without human companions 
would, of course, find no response to his chattering; but if 
speech were a genuine instinct, this should make Uttle differ- 
ence. Civilized children talk to the cat without knowing that 
they are soliloquizing, and a dog that answers with a bark is 
a good audience; moreover, Amala and Kamala had each 
other. Yet they did not talk. Where, then, is "the language- 
making instinct of very young children" 1 

It probably does not exist at all. Language, though nor- 

^Ihid., p. 286. Italics mine. 

" See Henry Wilson, WonderjidCharaclcrs, 2 vols. (London, 1821), vol, II; 
also I. Burnett, Lord Monboddo, Oj the Origin and Progress of Language, 6 vols, 
(Edinburgh, 1773), vol. I. 

^" See E. M. Itard, The Savage of Aveyron (English translation, London, 1802). 
The story of these children is told in their guardian's diary, published in 
WnlfCltiUren and Feral Man, by J. A. L. Singh and R. M, Zingg (New York 
and London: Harper and Bros., 1942), 



mally learned in infancy without any compulsion or formal 
training, is none the less a product of sheer learning, an art 
handed down from generation to generation, and where there 
is no teacher there is no accomplishment. Despite the caprices 
of the children cited by Professor Hale, it is fairly certain that 
these little inventors would not have talked at all if they had 
not heard their elders speaking. Whatever talent it is that 
helps a baby to learn a language with three or four times (or 
any number of times!) the ease of an adult, this talent is 
apparently not a "speech instinct." We have no birthright to 
vocabularies and syntaxes. 

This throws us back upon an old and mystifying problem. 
If we find no prototype of speech in the highest animals, and 
man will not say even the first word by instinct, then how did 
all his tribes acquire their various languages ? Who began 
the art which now we all have to learn? And why is it not 
restricted to the cultured races, but possessed by every primi- 
tive family, from darkest Africa to the loneliness of the polar 
ice? Even the simplest of practical arts, such as clothing, cook- 
ing, or pottery, is found wanting in one human group or an- 
other, or at least found to be very rudimentary. Language is 
neither absent nor archaic in any of them. 

The problem is so baffling that it is no longer considered 
respectable. There is a paragraph of Sapir's in the Encyclo- 
pedia of Social Sciences, repudiating it on excellent grounds. 
But in the very passage that warrants the despair of the philol- 
ogists, he justifies the present philosophical study in its hope- 
fulness, so I quote his words for their peculiar relevance: 

"Many attempts have been made to unravel the origin of 
language but most of these are hardly more than exercises of 
the speculative imagination. Linguists as a whole have lost 
interest in the problem and this for two reasons. In the first 
place, it has come to be realized that there exist no truly 
primitive languages in a psychological sense. ... In the second 
place, our knowledge of psychology, particularly of the sym- 
bolic process in general, is not felt to be sound enough to help 
materially with the problem of the emergence of speech. It is 
probable that the origin of language is not a problem that can 
be solved out of the resources of linguistics alone but that it is 
essentially a particular case of a much wider problem of the 
genesis of symbolic behavior and of the specialization of such 
behavior in the laryngeal region which may be presumed to 
have had only an expressive function to begin with. . . . 

"The primary function of language is generally said to be 



communication. . . . The autistic speech of children seems to 
show that the purely communicative aspect of language has 
been exaggerated. It is best to admit that language is primarily 
a vocal actualization of the tendency to see reality symboli- 
cally, that it is precisely this quality which renders it a fit in- 
strument for communication and that it is in the actual give 
and take of social intercourse that it has been complicated and 
refined into the form in which it is known today." 

If it is true that "the tendency to see reality symbolically" 
is the real keynote of language, then most researches into the 
roots of the speech-function have been misdirected. Com- 
munication by sound is what we have looked for among the 
apes; a pragmatic use of vocables is the only sign of word- 
conception that we have interpreted to their credit, the only 
thing we have tried to inspire in them, and in the "wild chil- 
dren," to pave their way toward language. What we should 
look for is the first indication of symbolic behavior, which is 
not likely to be anything as specialized, conscious, or rational 
as the use of semantic. Language is a very high form of sym- 
bolism ; presentational forms are much lower than discursive, 
and the appreciation of meaning probably earlier than its ex- 
pression. The earliest manifestation of any symbol-making 
tendency, therefore, is likely to be a mere sense of significance 
attached to certain objects, certain forms or sounds, a vague 
emotional arrest of the mind by something that is neither 
dangerous nor useful in reality. The beginnings of symbolic 
transformation in the cortex must be elusive and disturbing 
experiences, perhaps thrilling, but very useless, and hard on 
the whole nervous system. It is absurd to suppose that the 
earliest symbols could be invented; they are merely Gestalten 
furnished to the senses of a creature ready to give them some 
diffuse meaning. But even in such rudimentary new behavior 
lies the first break with the world of pure signs. Aesthetic 
attraction, mysterious fear, are probably the first manifestations 
of that mental function which in man becomes a peculiar 
"tendency to see reality symbolically," and which issues in the 
power of conception, and the life-long habit of speech. 

Something very much like an aesthetic sense of import is 
occasionally displayed by the anthropoid apes. It is like a dawn 
of superstition — a forerunner of fetishes and demons, perhaps. 
Especially in chimpanzees has this unrealistic attitude been ob- 
served by the most careful investigators, such as Yerkes, Kel- 

«From Sapir, Article "Language," p. 159. By permiirsion of The Macmillan 
Company, publishers. 



logg, and Kohler. Gua, the little chimpanzee who was given 
the benefits of a human nursery, showed some very remarkable 
reactions to objects that certainly had no direct associations 
with her past experiences. For instance, the experimenters 
report that she stood in mortal fear of toadstools. She would 
run from them, screaming, or if cornered, hide her face as 
though to escape the sight of them. This behavior proved to 
be elicited by all kinds of toadstools, and to be based on no 
warning smell that might betray their poisonous properties (if, 
indeed, they are poisonous to apes. Some animals, e.g. squir- 
rels, seem to eat all kinds with impunity) . Once the experi- 
menters wrapped some toadstools lightly in paper and handed 
her the package which, of course, smelled of the fungi, and 
watched her reception of it. 

"She accepts it without the slightest show of diffidence, and 
even starts to chew some of the paper. But when the package 
is unwrapped before her, she backs away apprehensively and 
will thereafter have none of the paper or its contents. Ap- 
parently she is stimulated only visually by toadstools." 

By way of comparison, toadstools were then offered to the 
thirteen apes at the experimental station near by. Only four 
of the subjects showed a similar fear, which they did not show 
toward pinecones, sticks, etc. These four were two adult fe- 
males and two "children" three years old. Since the reaction 
was not universal the observers concluded that it was merely 
due to the chimpanzee's natural fear of the unknown. But 
surely pinecones are just as strange as toadstools to a caged 
chimpanzee. Moreover, they say (in the very same paragraph) 
that "Gua herself avoids both plucked and growing toadstools 
2 1/2 months after her original fright — or as long as any speci- 
mens can be found in the woods. It is quite likely that her 
reactions would have remained essentially the same through- 
out the entire period of the research." Certainly the plants 
cannot have frightened her by their novelty all summer long! 

The reaction on the part of the apes, limited as it was to 
about one subject in every three or four, has just that character 
of being common, yet individual, that belongs to aesthetic ex- 
periences. Some are sensitive to the sight, and the rest are not; 
to some of them it seems to convey something — to others it is 
just a thing, a toadstool or what you will. 

Gua had other objects of unreasonable fear: a pair of blue 
trousers, of which she was afraid the first time she saw them 
and ever after; a pair of leather gloves; a flat and rusty tin 

" Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, p. 177. » Ibid., p. 178. 



can which she herself had found during her play outdoors. 
"It is difficult," say her observers, "to reconcile behavior of 
this sort with the ape's obvious preference for new toys." 

Yerkes and Learned have recorded similar oddities of sim- 
ian behavior. 

"The causes of fear or apprehension in the chimpanzees 
were various," they report, "and sometimes difficult to under- 
stand. Thus Panzee stood in dread of a large burlap bag filled 
with hay, which she was obliged to pass frequently. She would 
meet the situation bravely, however, holding her head high, 
stamping her feet, and raising her fur, as she passed with an 
air of injured dignity." 

Remembering some of the strange inanimate objects in the 
world of early childhood, one may wonder what sort of ex- 
pression the burlap bag was showing to Panzee. 

The best account of what may be termed "aesthetic frights" 
is given by Wolfgang Kohler, who tells, in The Mentality of 
Apes, how he showed his chimpanzees "some primitive stuffed 
toys, on wooden frames, fastened to a stand, and padded with 
straw sewn inside cloth covers, with black buttons for eyes. 
They were about thirty-five centimeters in height, and could 
in extremity be taken for oxen and asses, though most drolly 
unnatural. It was totally impossible to get Sultan, who at that 
time could be led by the hand outside, near these small objects, 
which had so little real resemblance to any kind of creature. 
. . . One day I entered their room with one of these toys under 
my arm. Their reaction-times may be very short; for in a mo- 
ment a blacker cluster, consisting of the whole group of 
chimpanzees, hung suspended to the farthest corner of the 
wire roofing; each individual tried to thrust the others aside 
and bury his head deep among them." ^"^ 

His comment on these events is simple and cogent. 

"It is too facile an explanation of these reactions to assume 
that everything new and unknown appears terrible to these 
creatures. . . . New things are not necessarily frightful to a 
chimpanzee, any more than to a human child ; certain inherent 
qualities are requisite to produce this special effect. But, as 
the examples cited above prove, any marked resemblance to 
the living foes of their species does not seem at all essential, 
and it almost seems as though the immediate impression of 
something exceptionally frightful could be conveyed in an 

"'Ibid., p. 179. 

J*^ R. M. Yerkes and B. Learned, Chimpanzee Intelligence and its Vocal Ex- 
pression (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1925), p. 143. 
" Page 333. 



even higher degree by constructing something frightful, than 
by any living animal (with the possible exception of snakes). 
For us human beings as well, many ghost-forms and specters, 
with which no terrible experience can be individually con- 
nected, are much more uncanny than certain very substantial 
dangers which we may easily have encountered in daily life." ' 

Not only fear, but also delight or comfort may be inspired 
in these animals by objects that have no biological significance 
for them; thus Gua, who was so attached to Mr. Kellogg that 
she went into tantrums of terror and grief whenever he left 
the house, could be comforted by being given his pair of cov- 
eralls. "This she would drag around with her," the account 
reads, "as a fetish of protection until his return. . . . Occa- 
sionally, if it was necessary for him to go away, the leave- 
taking could be accomplished without emotional display on 
the part of Gua if the coveralls were given her before the 
time of departure." 

Here certainly is a case where the object is significant. 
Superficially it reminds one of a dog's recognition of his 
master's clothes. But whereas a dog is prompted to the action 
of seeking the possessor of them, Gua let the possessor go out 
and contented herself with the proxy. Therein lies the dif- 
ference. Gua was using the coveralls even in his presence as a 
help to her imagination, which kept him near whether he went 
out or not. 

Kohler describes how the chimpanzees will hoard perfectly 
useless objects and carry them between the lower abdomen 
and the upper thigh, a sort of natural trouser pocket, for days 
on end. Thus Tschego, an adult female, treasured a stone that 
the sea had rounded and polished. "On no pretext," he says, 
"could you get the stone away, and in the evening the animal 
took it with it to its room and its nest." -* 

No one knows what made the stone so valuable to Tschego ; 
we cannot say that it was significant, as we can in the case of 
Gua's keepsake. But certainly an object which is aesthetically 
satisfying or horrifying is a good candidate for the office of 
fetish or bogie, as the case may be. An ape that can transfer 
the sense of her master's presence to a memento of him, and 
that reacts with specific emotions to the sheer quality of a 
perception, certainly is nervously organized above the level of 
purely realistic conditioned response. It is not altogether sur- 

" Kohler, The Mentalin of Apes (Xew York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1925), 
p. 334. ■ ' ' 

Kellosg, on. cil. p. 160. 
Kohler, The. Mentality oj Apes. p. 99. 



prising, therefore, to find even more definite traces of sym- 
bolic behavior in the chimpanzee — this time a real preparation 
for the function of denotation, which is the essence of lan- 

This behavior is the performance of symbolic acts — acts 
that really seem to epitomize the creature's apprehension of 
a state of affairs, rather than to be just a symptom of emotion. 
The difference between a symbolic and a symptomatic act 
may be illustrated by contrasting the intentional genuflexion 
of a suppliant with the emotional quaver of his voice. There 
is a convention about the former, but not about the latter. And 
the conventional expression of a feeling, an attitude, etc., is 
the first, the lowest form of denotation. In a conventional 
attitude, something is summed up, understood, and consciously 
conveyed. So it is deeply interesting that both Kohler and Kel- 
logg have observed in their apes quite unmistakable cases of 
symbolic (not signific) gesture. Kohler reports that when a 
young chimpanzee would greet Tschego, it would put its hand 
into her lap. "If the movement of the arm will not go so far," 
he says, "Tschego, when in a good mood . . . will take the 
hand of the other animal, press it to her lap, or else pat it 
amicably. . . . She will press our hand to just that spot between 
her upper thigh and lower abdomen where she keeps her 
precious objects. She herself, as a greeting, will put her huge 
hand to the other animal's lap or between their legs and she is 
inclined to extend this greeting even to men." 21 

Here we certainly have the dawn of a conventional expres- 
sion of good-will. But a still more clearly significant act is 
described by the Kelloggs in their account of Gua: that is the 
kiss of forgiveness. Kissing is a natural demonstration on the 
part of chimpanzees, and has an emotional value for them. 
In her human surroundings the little ape soon employed it in 
an unequivocally conscious way. 

"She would kiss and offer her lips in recompense for small 
errors many times a day. . . . Thereafter she could be put down 
again and would play, but unless the ritual had been satisfac- 
torily completed she would not be quiet or turn away until it 
had, or until some other climax superseded it." 

The upshot of all these considerations is that the tendency 
to a symbolic transformation of experience, the primary requi- 
site for speech, is not entirely wanting in the ape, though it is 
as rudimentary as the rest of his higher functions — his percep- 
tion of causal relations, for instance. If we take symboUc rep- 

tit., in/ra. " Kellogg, op. cit, p. 172. 



resentation, rather than communication, as tlie criterion of a 
creature's capacity for language, we see that the chimpanzee, 
at least, is in some measure prepared; he has a rudimentary 
capacity for it.^* Yet he definitely has no speech. He makes no 
stumbling attempts at words, as he does at using tools, decorat- 
ing his body, dancing and parading, and other primitive pur- 
suits. He is conceptually not far from the supreme human 
achievement, yet never crosses the line. What has placed this 
absolute barrier between his race and ours ? 

Chiefly, I think, one difference of natural proclivities. The 
ape has no instinctive desire to babble in babyhood. He does 
not play with his mouth and his breath as human infants do; 
there is no crowing and cooing, no "goo-goo" and 'ba-ba" 
and "do-de-da" in his otherwise uproarious nursery. Conse- 
quently there are no sounds and syllables that please or 
frighten him by their sheer aesthetic character, as he is 
pleased, frightened, or comforted by purely phenomenal sights. 
Oddly enough, it is just because all his utterances have signifi- 
cation — all are pragmatic or emotional— that none of them 
ever acquire significance. He does not even imitate sounds for 
fun, as he imitates gestures, and gravely mimics practices that 
have no utility for him. 

This mutism of the great apes has been little Fcafized by 
people who have not actually studied their habits, in fact, 
our satirists have made much of the supposedly simian trait 
of constant unsolicited chatter. "Heavens, what a genius for 
tongues these simians have!" said Clarence Day in one of his 
clever books. And assuming that we are descended from such 
arboreal geniuses, he comments on our political problems: 
"The best government for simians seems to be based on a par- 
liament: a talk-room, where endless vague thoughts can be 
warmly expressed. This is the natural child of those primeval 
sessions that gave pleasure to apes." 2* And even Kipling, who 
has lived in a land where monkeys and apes are wild, did not 
observe that their chatter (when they do chatter) is no more 
imitative than the "ch-ch-ch-chee" of an angry squirrel; if he 
had, we might be the poorer by missing that delightful parody 
on human loquacity, the council-scene in Cold Lairs. 

A genuine symbol can most readily originate where some 
object, sound, or act is provided which has no practical mean- 
ing, yet tends to ehcit an emotional response, and thus hold 

For a detailed study of chimpanzee behavior, see Kbhler, The Mentality of 
Apes, passim; for a general evaluation of the findings, the appendix, pp. 281-342, 
Some Contributions to the Psychology of Chimpanzees." 

" This Simian Worlfl CSew York: Alfred A. Knopf. Inc., 1920), p. 69. 



one's undivided attention. Certain objects and gestures ap- 
pear to have this phenomenological, dissociated character for 
some apes, as well as for man; sounds have it for man alone. 
They annoy or please him even when they are not signs of 
anything further; they have an inherently interesting charac- 
ter. Add to this the fact that man spontaneously produces ran- 
dom syllables in infancy, whereas the ape does not, and it is 
immediately apparent that verbal symbols are easily available 
to the one and very remote and unnatural to the other. Man, 
though undoubtedly a simian, must trace his descent from a 
vocalizing race — a genus of ape, perhaps, in which the rudi- 
ments of symbolic conception, that apparently are dawning in 
the chimpanzee, were coupled with an instinctive tendency to 
produce sounds, to play with the vocal apparatus. 

Fumess succeeded in teaching a young orang-utan two 
words, which it certainly appeared to use intelligently. Un- 
fortunately for science, as well as for the ape, it died five 
months after this achievement, so we do not know how much 
further it might have gone on the road to Parnassus. But the 
experimenter had little confidence, despite his success. His 
chief obstacle was not the subject's lack of understanding, but 
of instinctive response, of any tendency to imitate his mouth- 
ings and articulations. Its lips had to be moved by hand in- 
stead of by example. Once it learned the trick, it soon had the 
words; but the trick was something it would never in the 
world have thought of by itself .'^^For this reason, if for no 

Furness' own account of this training is wortli repeating liere. His own 
estimate of iris success seems to me too modest, considering the difference in 
learning-time of the first word and the second. For he says: "It seeins well-nigh 
incredible that in animals otherwise so close to us physically there should not be 
a rudimentary speech-center in the brain which only needed developing. I have 
made an earnest endeavor and am still endeavoring, but I cannot say that I am 

"In teaching articulate speech I found the first difficulty to be overcome in both 
the orang and the chimpanzee is their lack of use of lips or tongue in making their 
natural emotional cries. 

. . In the of the orang-utan it took at least six months to teach her 
to say *Papa.' This word was selected not only because it is a very primitive sound, 
but also because it combined two elements of vocalization to which orang-utans 
and chimpanzees are ... unaccustomed, namely; the use of lips and an expired 
vowel. . . Presumably, this latter fact precluded the occurrence of the "word" 
by accident, and the dancer of interpreting as a "word" some mere natural sound. 
Tne teacher manipulatecT the ape's lips, and also made the motions and sounds 
for her with his own mouth. 

"At the end of six months, one day of her own accord, out of lesson time, she 
said 'Papa' quite distinctly and repeated it on command. . . . She never forgot it 
after that and finally recognized it as my name. When asked 'Where is Papar' she 
would at once point to me or pat me on the shoulder." 

Once, while being carried into the water, "she was panic-stricken; she dung 
with her arms about my neck; kissed me again and again and kept saying 'Papal 
Papal Papal' Of course, I went no further after that pathetic appeal." 

Her next word was "cup." The greatest art was needed to teacn her the purely 
physical trick of pronouncing k with an open vowel, ka; but once this was learned, 
after a few lessons when I showed her the cup and asked 'What is this?' she 
would say cup very plainly. Once when ill at night she leaned out of her hammock 



other, it is unlikely that the descendants of our great apes, ten 
thousand years hence, will hold parliaments (the prognosis is 
better for World Fairs) . The apes will not evolve verbal sym- 
bolism because they do not instinctively supply themselves 
with verbal material, interesting little phonetic items that can 
acquire conventional meanings because they carry no natural 

The notion that the essence of language is the formulation 
and expression of conceptions rather than the communication 
of natural wants (the essence of pantomime) opens a new 
vista upon the mysterious problem of origins. For its begin- 
nings are not natural adjustments, ways to means; they are 
purposeless lalling-instincts, primitive aesthetic reactions, and 
dreamlike associations of ideas that fasten on such material. 
The preparations for language are much lower in the rational 
scale than word-uses; they can be found below the evolution- 
ary level of any communication by sounds. 

Moreover, this originally impractical, or better, conceptual, 
use of speech is borne out by the fact, that all attempts to 
teach apes or the speechless "wild children" to talk, by the 
method of making them ask for something, have failed; 
whereas all cases where the use of language has dawned on an 
individual, simian or human, under such difficult circum- 
stances, have been independent of the practical use of the 
word at the moment. Helen Keller's testimony has already 
been cited (pp. 50-51) ; after all her teacher's efforts in formal 
daily lessons to make the child use words like "cup" and 
"doll" to obtain the denoted objects, the significance of the 
word "water" suddenly burst upon her, not when she needed 
water, but when the stream gushed over her hand! Likewise, 
Yerkes's efforts to make Chim use an articulate syllable to ask 
for a piece of banana all failed; he articulated no "word" re- 
sembling the speech of man, nor did he seem to establish a 
relation between the sound and any particular obiect.^* Fur- 
ness, on the other hand, carefully kept all practical interests 
out of his experiment. He tried only to associate an impres- 

and s?id 'cup, cup, cup,' which 1 naturally understood to mean that she was thirsty 
and which proved to be the case. I think this showpd fairly con'-lusively that there 
was a glimmering idea of the connection of the word with the object of her desire." 
(Furness, "Observations on the Mentality of Chimpanzees and Orang-Utans," pp. 

Once the idea of the spoken word was awakened in the ape. which awakening 
took all of six months, the learning of a second word was chiefly a matter of con- 
quering the unn'-.turalness of the phy-ical process. Who knows how far this 
development might have gone if the subject had lived? 

See Yerkes and Learned, op. cit.. p. 56: "The experimenter succeeded in 
tramine him to speak for food as a dog may readily be taught to do. This he did, 
however, not in imitation of the trainer but to secure the food." 



sion, a visual experience, with a word, so that by constant 
association the two should fuse, not as sign and result, but as 
name and image ; and he has had the greatest success on record 
so far as I know,-'' 

But the most decisive and, at the same time, pathetic evi- 
dence that the utilitarian view of language is a mistake, may 
be found in the story of Victor, the Savage of Aveyron, written 
by the young doctor who undertook to study and educate him. 
Since the boy always took notice when anyone exclaimed 
"Oh!" and even imitated the sound. Dr. Itard undertook to 
make him use the word "eau" as a sign when he wanted wa- 
ter; but this attempt failed because he used every sign hut the 
vocal one, and water could not be indefinitely withheld to 
force the issue. So a second attempt was made with the word 
"lait" of which Itard gives the following account: 

"The fourth day of this, my second experiment, I succeeded 
to the utmost of my wishes; I heard Victor pronounce dis- 
tinctly, in a manner, it must be confessed, rather harsh, the 
word lait, which he repeated almost incessantly; it was the 
first time that an articulate sound had escaped his lips, and 
of course I did not hear it without the most lively satisfaction. 
I nevertheless made afterwards an observation, which deduced 
very much from the advantage which it was reasonable to ex- 
pect from the first instance of success. It was not till the mo- 
ment, when, despairing of a happy result, I actually poured 
the milk into the cup which he presented to me, the word 
lait escaped him again, with evident demonstrations of joy; 
and it was not till after I had poured it out a second time, by 
way of reward, that he repeated the expression. It is evident 
from hence, that the result of the experiment was far from 
accomplishing my intentions; the word pronounced, instead of 
being the sign of a want, it appeared, from the time in which 
it was articulated, to be merely an exclamation of joy. If this 
word had been uttered before the thing that he desired had 
been granted, my object would have been nearly accomplished: 
then the true sense of speech would have been soon acquired 
by Victor: a point of communication would have been estab- 
lished between him and me, and the most rapid progress must 
necessarily have ensued. Instead of this I had obtained only 

2" See Fumess op. cit., p. 285 1 "As to a comprehension of the connection of 
spoken words with objects and actions both the orang-utan and the chimoanzee, I 
think, exceed ?ny of nur domestic animals; both of my anthropoids have been able 
to understand what I said to them, more infelligently th^n any professiomlly 
trr'ined animals I have ever seen. In their education the enticement of food has 
never been used as an incentive to action, and praise and petting have been the 
only rewards. In other words my object has been to endeavor to make them show 
signs of thought rather than a perfunctory performance of tricks." 



an expression of the pleasure which he felt, insignificant as it 
related to himself, and useless to us both. ... It was gener- 
ally only during the enjoyment of the thing, that the word 
lait was pronounced. Sometimes he happened to utter it be- 
fore, and at other times a little after, but always without hav- 
ing any view in the use of it. I do not attach any more impor- 
tance to his spontaneous repetition of it, when he happens to 
wake during the course of the night." 

Another word which Victor acquired quite spontaneously 
was "Li," which Itard identifies as the name of a young girl, 
Julie, who stayed at the house for several weeks, to Victor's 
great delight; but this word he uttered to himself, all the time, 
and "even during the night, at those moments when there is 
reason to believe that he is in a profound sleep," so no impor- 
tance was attached to it as a sign of reason. 

Unfortunately, the young doctor was such a faithful dis- 
ciple of Locke and Condillac that after his "failure" with the 
word "lait" he gave up the attempt to teach the Wild Boy 
spoken language, and tried to instruct him in the deaf-mutes' 
alphabet instead. Victor picked up a few spoken words, sub- 
sequently, by himself; but as he merely said them when he 
contemplated their objects with joy or sorrow, not when he 
lacked anything, no one paid much attention to these "mere 
exclamations" or made response to them. 

Young children leam to speak, after the fashion of Victor, 
by constantly using words to bring things into their minds, 
not into their hands. They learn it fully whether their parents 
consciously teach them by wrong methods or right or not at 
all. Why did Victor not defy the doctor's utilitarian theories 
and learn language by the babbling method ? 

Because he was already about twelve years old, and the 
lalling-impulse of early childhood was all but completely out- 
grown. The tendency to constant vocalization seems to be a 
passing phase of our instinctive life. If language is not devel- 
oped during this period, the individual is handicapped — like 
the apes — by a lack of spontaneous phonetic material to facil- 
itate his speech experiments. The production of sounds is con- 
scious then, and is used economically instead of prodigally. 
Victor did not articulate to amuse himself; his first word had 
to be stimulated. Wild Peter, we are told, never babbled to 
himself, though he sang a great deal ; Kamala, the surviving 
little "wolf-girl" found at Midnapur, had learned about forty 
words at the end of six years in human surroundings, and 

^' The Savage of A veyron, pp. 93-96. 



formed sentences of two or three words; but even with this 
vocabulary, which would serve a three-year-old to carry on in- 
cessant conversations, Kamala never talked unless she was 
spoken to.-^ The impulse to chatter had been outgrown with- 
out being exploited for the acquisition of language. Only dur- 
ing severe illnesses — perhaps as a phenomenon of mental 
regression — she suddenly began to prattle to herself like a 
young child, and then her use of language increased "by leaps 
and bounds," but was soon cut short by death. 

In a social environment, the vocalizing and articulating in- 
stinct of babyhood is fostered by response, and as the sounds 
become symbols their use becomes a dominant habit. Yet the 
passing of the instinctive phase is marked by the fact that a 
great many phonemes which do not meet with response are 
completely lost.^** Undoubtedly that is why children, who have 
not entirely lost the impulse to make random sounds which 
their mother tongue does not require, can so easily learn a for- 
eign language and even master several at once, like many Eng- 
lish youngsters born in India, who learn not only one vernacu- 
lar, but speak with every native servant in whatever happens to 
be his dialect. A British psychologist, J. W. Tomb, has called 
attention to this phenomenon and concluded from it that 
children have a linguistic intuition which is lost later in life.*'- 

But intuition is a slippery word, which has to cover, in this 
case, understanding, reproduction, and use — i.e. independent, 
analogous application — of words. It is hard to imagine any 
"intuition" that would bestow so many powers. It is better, 
perhaps, to say that there is an optimum period of learning, 
and this is a stage of mental development in which several im- 
pulses and interests happen to coincide: the lalling instinct, 
the imitative impulse, a natural interest in distinctive sounds, 
and a great sensitivity to "expressiveness" of any sort. Where 
any one of these characteristics is absent or is not synchron- 
ized with the others, the "linguistic intuition" miscarries. 

The last requirement here mentioned is really the "higher 
function" of the mind that shines forth so conspicuously in 
human intercourse; yet it is the one that linguists and psychol- 

2* See Singh and Zingg, op. cit., p. 103 ff. 

«^Thus Israel Latif, speaking of the "lalling stage" of babyhood, says: "Many 
more sound?, are produced by the infant during this period than are later used, at 
least in its own language. . . (To this effect he cites many authorities — Stern, 
Lorimer, K. C. More, St.mley Hall, Preyer, and Conradi.) "N'ow, out of thi.? 
astonishingly rich and varied repertoire of sounds, those which are used by the 
child's elders are reenforced, ?nd become habitual; the others cease to be uttered." 
— "The Physiological Basis of Linguistic Development and the Ontogeny of Mean- 
ing," Psychological Review. XLI (1934), SS-85, 153-176, 246-264. See esp. p. 60. 

" See his article "On the Intuitive Capacity of Children to Understand Spoken 
Language." British Journal of Psychology, XVI (1925-26), 53-55. 



Ovists either overlook entirely, or certainly do not credit to 
early childhood. The peculiar impressionability of childhood 

is usually treated under the rubric of attention to exact colors, 
sounds, etc. ; but what is much more important, I think, is the 
child's tendency to read a vague sort of meaning into pure 
visual and auditory forms. Childhood is the great period of 
synaesthesia ; sounds and colors and temperatures, forms and 
feelings, may have certain characters in common, by which a 
vowel may "be" of a certain color, a tone may "be" large or 
small, low or high, bright or dark, etc. There is a strong ten- 
dency to form associations among sensa that are not practically 
fixed in the world, even to confuse such random impressions. 
Most of all, the over-active feelings fasten upon such flotsam 
material. Fear lives in pure Gestalten, warning or friendliness 
emanates from objects that have no faces and no voices, no 
heads or hands; for they all have "expression" for the child, 
though not — as adults often suppose — anthropomorphic form. 
One of my earliest recollections is that chairs and tables always 
kept the same look, in a way that people did not, and that I 
was awed by the sameness of that appearance. They symbolized 
such-and-such a mood; even as a little child I would not have 
judged that they felt it (if any one had raised such a silly 
question). There was just such-and-such a look — dignity, in- 
difference, or ominousness — about them. They continued to 
convey that silent message no matter what you did to them. 

A mind to which the stern character of an armchair is more 
innmediately apparent than its use or its position in the room, 
is over-sensitive to expressive forms. It grasps analogies that a 
riper experience would reject as absurd. It fuses sensa that 
practical thinking must keep apart. Yet it is just this crazy play 
of associations, this uncritical fusion of impressions, that exer- 
cises the powers of symbolic transformation. To project feel- 
ings into outer objects is the first way of symbolizing, and thus 
of conceiving those feelings. This activity belongs to about the 
earliest period of childhood that memory can recover. The 
conception of "self," which is usually thought to mark the 
beginning of actual memory, may possibly depend on this 
process of symbolically epitomizing our feelings. 

From this dawn of memory, where we needs must begin 
any first-hand record, to adolescence, there is a constant de- 
crease in such dreamlike experience, a growing shift from sub- 
jective, symbolic, to practical associations. Sense-data now 
keep to their categories, and signify further events. Percepts 
become less weighted with irrelevant feeling and fantasy, and 



are more readily ranged in an objective order. But if in theory 
we count backward over the span which none of us recollect, 
and which covers the period of learning language — is it likely 
that the mind was realistic in its earlier phase? Is it not prob- 
able that association was even more trivial, more ready, and 
that the senses fused more completely in yielding impressions ? 
No experience belongs to any class as yet, in this primitive 
phase. Consider, now, that the vocal play of the infant fills his 
world with audible actions, the nearest and most completely 
absorbing stimuli, because they are both inner and outer, au- 
tonomously produced yet unexpected, inviting that repetition 
of accidental motions which William James deemed the source 
of all voluntary acts; intriguing, endlessly variable noises mys- 
teriously connected with the child himself! For a while, at 
least, his idle experiments in vocalization probably fill his 

If, now, his audible acts wake echoes in his surroundings — 
that is to say, if his elders reply to them — there is a growth 
of experience; for the baby appears to recognize, gradually, 
that the sound which happens there and comes to him, is the 
same as his lalling. This is a rudimentary abstraction; by that 
sameness he becomes aware of the tone, the product of his 
activity, which absorbs his interest. He repeats that sound 
rather than another. His ear has made its first judgment. A 
sound (such as "da-da," or "ma-ma," probably) has been con- 
ceived, and his diffuse awareness of vocalizing gives way to an 
apparently delightful awareness of a vocable. 

It is doubtful whether a child who never heard any articu- 
late sounds but his own would ever become conscious of differ- 
ent phonemes. Voice and uttered syllable and the feeling of 
utterance would probably remain one experience to him; the 
babbling period might come and go without his recognizing any 
product of his own activity. If this guess is correct, it is easy 
to understand why Victor and Wild Peter did not invent lan- 
guage, and were nearly, if not entirely, past the hope of ac- 
quiring it when they were socialized. 

A new vocable is an outstanding Geslalt. It is a possession, 
too, because it may be had at will, and this itself makes it very 
interesting. Itard tells us that when Victor pronounced his first 
word he repeated it "almost incessantly"; as does every baby 
who has learned a new syllable. Moreover, an articulate sound 
is an entirely unattached item, a purely phenomenal experience 
without externally fixed relations; it lies wide open to imagi- 
native and emotional uses, synaesthetic identifications, chance 



associations. It is the readiest thing in the world to become a 
symbol when a symbol is wanted. The next sharp and emo- 
tional arrest of consciousness, the next deeply interesting ex- 
perience that coincides with hearing or uttering the vocable, 
becomes fixed by association with that one already distinct 
item; it may be the personality of the mother, the concrete 
character of the bottle, or what not, that becomes thus identi- 
fied with the recognizable, producible sound ; whatever it is, 
the baby's mind has hold of it through the word, and can in- 
voke a conception of it by uttering the word, which has thus 
become the name of the thing. 

For a considerable time, playing with conceptions seems 
to be the main interest and aim in speaking. To name things 
is a thrilling experience, a tremendous satisfaction. Helen 
Keller bears witness to the sense of power it bestows. Word 
and conception become fused in that early period wherein 
both grow up together, so that even in later life they are 
hard to separate. In a sense, language is conception, and 
conception is the frame of perception; or, as Sapir has put 
it, "Language is heuristic ... in that its forms predetermine 
for us certain modes of observation and interpretation. . . . 
While it may be looked upon as a symbolic system which 
reports or refers or otherwise substitutes for direct experi- 
ence, it does not as a matter of actual behavior stand apart 
from or run parallel to direct experience but completely inter- 
penetrates with it. This is indicated by the widespread feeling, 
particularly among primitive people, of that virtual identity 
or close correspondence of word and thing which leads to the 
magic of spells. . . . Many lovers of nature, for instance, do 
not feel that they are truly in touch with it until they have 
mastered the names of a great many flowers and trees, as 
though the primary world of reality were a verbal one and as 
though one could not get close to nature unless one first mas- 
tered the terminology which somehow magically expresses 

it," 32 

The fact is that our primary world of reality is a verbal one. 
Without words our imagination cannot retain distinct objects 
and their relations, but out of sight is out of mind. Perhaps 
that is why Kohler's apes could use a stick to reach a banana 
outside the cage so long as the banana and the stick could be 
seen in one glance, but not if they had to turn their eyes away 
from the banana to see the stick. Apparently they could not 
look at the one and think of the other.** A child who had as 

"From Sapir, Article "Language," p. 157, by permission of The MacmiUan 
Company, publishers. Kohler, The Mentality of Apes, p. 37, 



much practical initiative as the apes, turning away from the 
coveted object, yet still murmuring "banana," would have 
seen the stick in its instrumental capacity at once. 

The transformation of experience into concepts, not the 
elaboration of signals and symptoms, is the motive of lan- 
guage. Speech is through and through symbolic; and only 
sometimes signific. Any attempt to trace it back entirely to 
the need of communication, neglecting the formuiative, ab- 
stractive experience at the root of it, must land us in the sort 
of enigma that the problem of linguistic origins has long pre- 
sented. I have tried, instead, to trace it to the characteristic 
human activity, symbolic transformation and abstraction, of 
which pre-human beginnings may perhaps be attributed to the 
highest apes. Yet we have not found the commencement of 
language anywhere between their state and ours. Even in man, 
who has all its prerequisites, it depends on education not only 
for its full development, but for its very inception. How, then, 
did it ever arise? And why do all men possess it? 

It could only have arisen in a race in which the lower forms 
of symbolistic thinking — dream, ritual, superstitious fancy — 
were already highly developed, i.e. where the process of sym- 
bolization, though primitive, was very active. Communal life in 
such a group would be characterized by vigorous indulgence in 
purely expressive acts, in ritual gestures, dances, etc., and prob- 
ably by a strong tendency to fantastic terrors and joys. The 
liberation from practical interests that is already marked in the 
apes would make rapid progress in a species with a definitely 
symbolistic turn of mind ; conventional meanings would gradu- 
ally imbue every originally random act, so that the group-life 
as a whole would have an exciting, vaguely transcendental 
tinge, without any definable or communicable body of ideas to 
cling to. A wealth of dance-forms and antics, poses and 
manoeuvres might flourish in a society that was somewhat 
above the apes' in non-practical interests, and rested on a 
slightly higher development of the symboiific brain-functions. 
There are quite articulated play-forms, verging on dance- 
forms, in the natural repertoire of the chimpanzees ; 3* with 

Even at the risk of letting Kohler's apes steal tiie show in this chapter, I 
must quote his account of these plays. Tschego and Grande developed a game of 
spinning round and round like dervishes, which found favor with all the others. 
"Any game of two together," says Kdhler^ "was apt to turn into this "spinning-lop' 
play, which appeared to express a climax of friendly and amicable joie de vivre. 
The resemblance to a human dance became truly striking when the rotations were 
rapid, or when Tschego, for instance, stretched her arms out horizontally as she 
spun round. Tschego and Chica — whose favorite fashion during 1916 was this 
'spinning' — sometimes combined a forward movement with the rotations, and so 
they revolved slowly round their own axes and along the playground. 

"The whole group of chimpanzees sometimes comoined m more elaborate motion- 



but a little further elaboration, these would become most obvi- 
ous material for symbolic expression. It is not at all impossible 
that ritual, solemn and significant, antedates the evolution of 


In a vocalizing animal, such actions would undoubtedly be 
accompanied by purely fanciful sounds — wavering tones, 
strings of syllables, echoing shouts. Voice-play, which as an 
instinct is lost after infancy, would be perpetuated in a group 
by the constant stimulation of response, as it is with us when 
we learn to speak. It is easy enough to imagine that young 
human beings would excite each other to shout, as two apes 
excite one another to jump, rotate, and strike poses; and the 
shouting would soon be formalized into song. Once the vocal 
habits are utilized, as in speech or song, we know that they 
do not become lost, but are fixed as a life-long activity. In a 
social group, the infantile lalling-instinct would be constantly 
reinforced, and instead of being outgrown, would become 
conventionalized in social play-forms. "Never a nomadic 
horde in the wilderness, but must already have had its songs," 
says Wilhelm von Humboldt, "for man as a species is a sing- 
ing creature. . . ." ^-^ Song, the formalization of voice-play, 
probably preceded speech. 

Jespersen, who is certainly one of our great authorities on 
language, suggests that speech and song may well have sprung 
from the same source (as Herder and Rousseau, without really 
scientific foundation, imagined long ago) . "Word-tones were 
originally frequent, but meaningless," he observes; "afterwards 
they were dropped in some languages, while in others they 
were utilized for sense-distinguishing purposes." Further- 
more, he points out that in passionate speech the voice still 
tends to fluctuate, that civilization only reduces this effect by 
reducing passionate utterance, and that savages still use a sing- 
song manner of speaking; and in fine, he declares, "These 
facts and considerations all point to the conclusion that there 
was once a time when all speech was song, or rather when 
these two actions were not yet differentiated. . . ." ^"^ 

patterns. For instance, two would wrestle and tumble near a post; soon their 
movement? w^uld become more regular and tend to describe a circle round the post 
as a center. One after another, the rest of the group approach, join the two, and 
finally march in an orderly fashion round and round the post. The character of 
their movements changes; they no longer walk, they trot, and as a rule with special 
emphasis on one foot, while the other steps lightly; thus a rough approximate 
rhythm develops, and they tend to 'keep time* with one another. . . . 

"It seems to me extraordinary that there should arise quite spontaneously, 
among chimpanzees, anything that so strongly suggests the dancing of some primi- 
tive tribes." (The Mentality of Apes, pp. .^26-327.) 

D':f. sprachphilosophischen W^-rk^ WUhdm von Humboldts (ed. Steinthal. 
Berlin, 1884), p. 289. 

"Language, p. 418, n. "Ibid., p. 420. 



Yet it is hard to believe that song was ever an essential form 
of communication. How, then, was language derived from it? 
He does not tell us; but the difficulty of tracing an instrument 
like language to a free exercise like song is minimized in his 
sagacious reflection; "Although we now regard the communi- 
cation of thought as the main object of speaking, there is no 
reason for thinking that this has always been the case." ss 

Strangely enough, Professor Jespersen seems to be unac- 
quainted with an essay by J. Donovan, "The Festal Origin of 
Human Speech," which appeared in the form of two articles 
in Mind as long ago as 1891-92,39 and which develops, quite 
fully and logically, the very idea he advances. Probably the 
fact that it appeared in a philosophical journal caused it to 
escape the notice of philologists. Its thesis, however, is so well 
corroborated by Jespersen's more recent and perhaps more re- 
liable findings, that I present it here as a very suggestive and 
arresting hypothesis; the sort of idea that throws light at least 
on the problem of human articulateness, once we accept the 
Leitmotif of symbolic activity, rather than intelligent signal- 
ing, as the key to language. 

Donovan's theory is, in brief, that sound is peculiarly well 
adapted to become symbolic because our attention to it requires 
no utilitarian motive. "The passivity of the ear allowed audi- 
tory impressions to force themselves into consciousness in sea- 
son and out of season, when they were interesting to the 
dominant desires of the animal and when they were not. 
These impressions got further into consciousness, so to speak, 
before desire could examine their right of entrance, than was 
possible for impressions which could be annihilated by a wink 
or a turn of the head." Since noises have this intrinsic and 
commanding interest, and the ear cannot be closed, they were 
peculiarly well suited to become "free" items where they had 
no biological value, and to be utilized by the imagination in 
sheer play. Especially in the "play-excitement" following suc- 
cessful communal enterprise (one is reminded of the apes' 
outburst of pure joie de vivre culminating in a dervish-like 
spin), such noises as rhythmic beating and hand-clapping 
were used to emphasize the play-mood and keep it steady — 
for this primeval man was probably, like the ape, incredibly 
dis'^ractible. The voice could be used, like the drum, to attract 
attention and accentuate rhythm; and thus the force of a 
change of pitch to make some notes stand out (one in four, 

£» Vol. XVI (O. S.), pp. 498-506 and vol. XVII, pp. 325-339. 
»> Donovan, "The Festal Origin of Human Speech, part I, p. 499. 



etc.) was naturally discovered. Being more variable than the 
drum, voices soon made patterns, and the long wandering 
melodies of primitive song became an integral part of com- 
munal celebration. 

First the actions of the "dance" would tend to become pan- 
tomimic, reminiscent of what had caused the great excitement. 
They would become ritualized, and hold the mind to the cele- 
brated event. In other words, there would be conventional 
modes of dancing appropriate to certain occasions, so inti- 
mately associated with that kind of occasion that they would 
presently uphold and embody the concept of it — in other 
words, there would emerge symbolic gestures. 

The voice, used to accompany such ritual acts, would elabo- 
rate its own conventions; and in a babbling species, certain 
syllables would find favor above others and would give color 
to festal plays. 

Now, the centering of certain festivities round particular in- 
dividuals, human or other — death-dances round a corpse, tri- 
umph-dances round a captive female, a bear, a treasure, or a 
chief — would presently cause the articulate noises peculiar to 
such situations to become associated with that central figure, 
so that the sight of it would stimulate people to utter those 
syllables, or more likely rhythmic groups of syllables, even 
outside the total festive situation. "And every moment during 
which such objects, connected as they are with the natural ap- 
petites of the animal, could be dominated by the emotional 
strength of festal play, and kept, however dimly, in conscious- 
ness, without firing the train of passions natural to them (e.g. 
to food, females), would mean the melting away of a link in 
the chain which held the animals below the possibility of 
human development." *i 

"In the early history of articulate sounds they could make 
no meaning themselves, but they preserved and got intimately 
associated with the peculiar feelings and perceptions that came 
most prominently into the minds of the festal players during 
their excitement. Articulate sounds . . . could only wait while 

*^ Ibid., part 11, p. 330. The importance here given to the festal as opposed to 
the impulsive spirit in the origination of speech stands in strilfing contrast to the 
opinion expressed by Markey, who also recognizes the probability of an emotional, 
perhaps ritual, source: in The Symbolic Process (London, 1928) Markey writes: 
Symbols must have developed only after long association had conditioned instinc- 
tive cries or sound to specific behavior in which two or more individuals were 
involved. In order that the mnesic traces become sufficiently vivid and consistent 
to result in the necessary integration, a highly emotional state was probably 
necessary. While the festive group occasion of song and dance may have served a3 
a background, it is probable that definite sex behaviour furnished the relatively 
similar, recurrent, and specific activity necessary for the conditioning process asso- 
ciated with a highly emotional facilitating state. Specific sounds being associated 
with this type of behaviour, would furnish a similar stimulus which could be 



they entered into the order imposed on them by the players' 
wild imitations of actions, and then preserve them in that 

"Without the vestige of a conscious intention behind it, this 

impulse (the play) induced the players to dwell on some sort 
of an image of an individual in relation to the actions imitated, 
whilst rhythmic and articular utterances were absorbing ear 
and mind, and, at the same time, getting fixed upon the per- 
ceptions which they were associated with repeatedly." Thus a 
rhythmic group of syllables conventionally associated with the 
object or central figure of a certain type of celebration — say, 
with a certain warrior — "would become its vocal mark, and he. 
uttered when any objects of nature gave impressions which 
could, however faintly, touch the springs of the latent mass of 
sensations belonging to the festal imagining of the destroying 

This passage is interesting for two reasons: (1) because it 
assumes that the original use of language lies in naming, fixat- 
ing, conceiving objects, so that the communicative use of 
words is only a secondary one, a practical application of some- 
thing that has already been developed at a deeper psychologi- 
cal level; and (2) because it suggests the very early, very 
primitive operation of metaphor in the evolution of speech. 
The nature of metaphor is another topic which cannot be 
properly understood without a symbolistic rather than a sig- 
nalistic view of language; but to this matter we will presently 

"When particular syllables got fixed upon particular ac- 
tions," Donovan continues, "they would be brought up with 
them, and here two chief interests of the festal excitement 
would begin to clash, the interest of significance, and that 
belonging to the impulse to make the vocal apparatus produce 
the easiest possible enticements to the ear. ... In the familiar 
observation of travellers about 'the unmeaning interjections 
scattered here and there to assist the metre' of savage songs, as 
well as in the most polished alliterations, assonances, rhymes, 
refrains and burthens, there can be no doubt that we behold 
the demands for aural absorption trying to make their way 
among syllables which have been fixed bysignificance." 

Recent anthropological literature has certainly borne out the 

produced and interchanged by each person" (p. 159). But specific sex behavior is 
just the sort of overt expression that obviates the need of imaginative consciousness 
and its symbolic expression. 

'2 Donovan, op. cit., part II, p. 332. 

part II, pp. 334-335. "/*W.,part II, p. 337. 



observations of tiie ttavellers he cites; we need only turn to 
Boas's statement, quoted by Jespersen,"' that Indian song may 
be carried on purely rhythmic nonsense syllables, or "consist 
largely of such syllables, with a few interspersed words sug- 
gesting certain ideas and feelings; or it may rise to the ex- 
pression of emotions connected with warlike deeds, with 
religious feeling, love, or even to the praises of the beauties 
of nature." *® 

The first symbolic value of words is probably purely con- 
notative, like that of ritual; a certain string of syllables, just 
like a rite, embodies a concept, as "hallelujah" embodies much 
of the concept expressed in the Easter service. But "hallelu- 
jah" is not the name of any thing, act, or property; it is neither 
noun, verb, adjective, nor any other syntactical part of speech. 
So long as articulate sound serves only in the capacity of "hal- 
lelujah" or "alack-a-day," it cannot fairly be called language; 
for although it has connotation, it has no denotation. But de- 
notation is the essence of language, because it frees the sym- 
bol from its original instinctive utterance and marks its delib- 
erate use, outside of the total situation that gave it birth. A 
denotative word is related at once to a conception, which may 
be ever so vague, and to a thing (or event, quality, person, 
etc.) which is realistic and public ; so it weans the conception 
away from the purely momentary and personal experience and 
fastens it on a permanent element which may enter into all 
sorts of situations. Thus the definiteness of sticks and stones, 
persons and acts and places, creeps into the recollection and 
the anticipation of experience, as its symbols, with their whole 
load of imagery and feeling, gradually become anchored to 
real objects. 

The utterance of conception-laden sounds, at the sight of 
things that exemplify one or another of the conceptions which 

those sounds carry, is first a purely expressive reaction; only 
long habit can fix an association so securely that the word and 
the object are felt to belong together, so that the one is always 

Jespersen, Language, p. 437. 

The purely phonetic origin of song texts survives in our "hey-nonny-nonny" 
and '■tralala": Donovan remarlcs that such nonsense syllables have been relegated 
entirely to the choruses of our songs, and are no longer mixed with genuinely verbal 
elements; but in purely festal songs, such as drinkmg and cheering songs, we still 
find such conglomerations of words and babble as: 
"With a veevo, with a vivo, 
With a veevo-vivo-vum, 
Vum get a rat-trap bigger than a cat-trap, 
Vum get a cat-trap bigger than a rat-trap, 
Cannibal, cannibal, sizz-boom-bah, 
(College, college), rah rah rah!" 
Nothing in the savages' repertoire could answer better to Boas's description, "non- 
sense syllables with a few interspersed words." 



a reminder of the other. But when this point is reached, the 
humanoid creature will undoubtedly utter the sound in sport, 

and thus move the object into nearer and clearer prominence 
in his mind, until he may be said to grasl> a conception of it 
by means of the sound; and now the sound is a word. 

In a sociable species this game would presumably become a 
joint affair almost at once. The word uttered by one pre-Adam- 
ite would evoke a fuzzy, individual conception in another; 
but if the word, besides stimulating that conception, were tied 
up to the same object for the hearer as it was for the speaker 
the word would have a common meaning for them both. The 
hearer, thinking his own thought of the object, would be 
moved thereby to say the word, too. The two creatures would 
look at one another with a light of understanding dawning 
under their great brow-ridges, and would say some more 
words, and grin at some more objects. Perhaps they would 
join hands and chant words together. Undoubtedly such a 
wonderful "fashion" would become immensely popular. 

Thus in a genuinely pre-human manner, and not by social 
contract or practical forethought, articulate sounds with a 
festal expressive value may have become representative. Of 
course this is pure speculation; but all theory is merely specu- 
lation in the light of significant facts. Linguists have avowedly 
given it up, in this case, for lack of such facts; a general 
study of symbolism may supply them, and yield at least a 
plausible theory in place of the very unsatisfactory current 
conviction that language simply cannot have begun in any 
thinkable way. 

But another mystery remains. Given the word, and the 
thought of a thing through the word, how did language rise 
from a sheer atomic conglomeration of symbols to the state of 
a complex relational structure, a logical edifice, such as it is 
among all tribes and nations on earth.' For language is much 
more than a set of symbols. It is essentially an organic, func- 
tioning system, of which the primary elements as well as the 
constructed products are symbols. Its forms do not stand 
alone, like so many monoliths each marking its one isolated 
grave; but instead, they tend to integrate, to make complex 
patterns, and thus to point out equally complex relationships 
in the world, the realm of their meanings. 

This tendency is comprehensible enough if we consider the 
preeminence which a named element holds in the kaleidoscopic 
flow of sheer sense and feeUng. For as soon as an object is de- 
noted, it can be held, so that anything else that is experienced 



at the same time, instead of crowding it out, exists with it, in 
contrast or in unison or in some other definite way. If the ape 
who wants a banana beyond his cage could only keep "banana, 
banana," in his head while he looks behind him at the con- 
venient bamboo, he could use the rod to fetch his lunch. But 
without language, relations are either taken for granted in ac- 
tion — as by a dog, for instance, who looks hopefully inside 
the garbage pail, or takes shelter from punishment under the 
sofa — or they cannot be experienced at all. The ape simply 
knew nothing about the relation of stick and fruit when their 
co-presence was not visible. 

This phenomenon of holding on to the object by means of 
its symbol is so elementary that language has grown up on it. 
A word fixes something in experience, and makes it the nu- 
cleus of memory, an available conception. Other impressions 
group themselves round the denoted thing and are associa- 
tively recalled when it is named. A whole occasion may be re- 
tained in thought by the name of an object or a person that 
was its center. The one word "River" may bring back the ex- 
citement of a dangerous crossing, a flood, a rescue, or the 
thought of building a house at the water's edge. The name of 
a person, we all know, brings to mind any number of events 
in which he figured. That is to say, a mnemonic word estab- 
lishes a context in which it occurs to us; and in a state of 
innocence we use it in the expectation that it will be under- 
stood with its context. A baby who says "cookie" means, and 
trusts his nurse to know, that he sees, or wants, or has a 
cookie; if he says "out" he may mean that he is going out, 
that someone has gone out, that the dog wants to go out, etc., 
and he confidently expects his utterance to be understood with 
its tacit context. 

Carl Biihler has called this elementary stage the "empractic" 
use of language.^'' The context is the situation of the speaker 
in a setting visible to the hearer; at the point where their 
thinking is to converge, a word is used, to fix the crucial con- 
cept. The word is built into the speaker's action or situation, 
in a diacritical capacity, settling a doubt, deciding a response.** 

The distinction between the novel predication in a state- 

^ See Biihler, Spracht/teorie, ch^p. iii, passim. 

** "Where a diacritical verbal sign is built into the action, it frequently needs 
no surroundinff framework or other verbal indicators. For in place of such substitute 
it is surrounded by that for which they are proxy, and is supported by it. That 
the patron of a restaurant intends to consume something ... is thoroughly under- 
stooa by his partner {the waiter). The customer uses a verbal sign . . . only at 
the moot point in his otherwise tacit, intellitnble behavior, as a diacritical sign. 
He inserts it. and the ambiguity is removed; that is the empractic use of language." 
Ibid., p. 158. 


ment and the merely qualifying situation, given by visible 
and demonstrable circumstance (Buhler calls it das Zeigfeld) , 
or verbally by exposition (das Symbolfeld) recognized 
fifty years ago by Philip Wegener; in a little book called 
Vntersuchungen iiber die Gnmdfragen des Sprachlebens 
Wegener expounded the growth of explicit statement from 
such a matrix, such communication by mere key words, eked 
out by pointing and by their setting in an obvious state of af- 
fairs. He recognized two general principles of linguistic devel- 
opment: emendation, which begets syntactical forms of speech, 
and metaphor, the source of generality. The first principle 
serves to solve the problem of structure, so I will briefly set it 

Since a word, in the elementary social use which babies and 
foreigners make of it, and which probably represents a primi- 
tive stage of its communicative function, is meant to convey a 
concept not of a mere object, but also of the part played by 
that object in a situation which is supposed to be "under- 
stood," such a single word is really, in meaning, a one-word 
sentence. But it requires a certain amount of good will and 
like-mindedness to understand the speaker of a one-word sen- 
tence. We always assume that our own attitude toward things 
is shared by our fellows, and needs only the "empractic" use 
of a vocable to designate our particular thought in that set- 
ting, until we find ourselves misunderstood. Then we supple- 
ment the lone verb or noun with demonstratives — little words 
like "da!" "his!" From such syllables, added as supplements 
to the one-word sentence, arise inflections, which indicate more 
specifically what the word-sentence asserts about the expressed 
concept. Wegener has traced interesting parallels between in- 
flections and demonstratives. More and more vocables are 
needed to modify the original expression, and to accompany 
and emphasize gestures and attitudes; so the grammatical 
structure evolves by emendation of an ambiguous expression, 
and naturally follows quite closely the relational pattern of 
the situation that evokes it. In this way, the context of the 
primitive word-sentence is more and more adequately expressed 
in verbal terms. At first modifiers and identifiers follow the 
crucial word that expressed the required predication in too 
great haste. "Appositives and relative clauses are subsequent 
corrections of our deficient presentations." Hence the cog- 
nate nature of relative and interrogative, or relative and de- 
monstrative pronouns. All these auxiliary utterances Wegener 

Wegener. Untersuchungen, p. 34. 



calls the "exposition" of the original word, which contains the 
real "novelty" to be asserted. This exposition finally becomes 

the verbal context in which the assertion is made. When the 
speaker is fully aware of the context and the need of stating 
it, his speech is full-fledged. As Wegener puts it, "Only the 
development of speech as an art and a science finally impresses 
on us the duty of rendering the exposition before the novel 

Since language is grafted on a vocalizing tendency in im- 
mature humans and is kept up only by becoming habit, linguis- 
tic forms very easily become fixed, because they are habitual 
responses. The trick of accompanying all communication with 
words quickly becomes an ingrained custom; so that words 
without important meanings creep in simply to fill gaps in the 
vocal pattern, and utterances become sentences of certain 
standard forms. At the highest development of these language- 
making functions, the resultant systems are immensely in- 
flected. Then separate items, or "roots," become convention- 
ally attached to very bare items of conception, abstractable 
from the articulated whole; and the logic of language, which 
appears to us in our awareness of syntax, emerges as an amaz- 
ing intellectual structure. 

The significant feature of Wegener's theory is that it de- 
rives grammatical structure from the undifferentiated content 
of the one-word sentence, and the literal, fixed denotation of 
separate words from the total assertion by gradual crystalliza- 
tion, instead of trying to build the complexities of discursive 
speech out of supposed primitive "words" with distinctly sub- 
stantive or distinctly relational connotations. No savage society 
of unintellectua] hunters and squaws could ever build a lan- 
guage; they could only produce it by some such unconscious 
process as endless misunderstanding, modification, reduplica- 
tion for emphasis (as we reduplicate baby words — "goody- 
goody," "naughty-naughty," "bye-bye," etc.) and "filling in" 
by force of a formal feeling based on habits. 

The structure of language may, indeed, have grown up by 
gradual emendation, but not so its other essential value, g^en- 
erality. Even a contextual language is still primarily specific as 
long as the verbal exposition merely replaces the situation of 
an "empractically" used word, and the word is a name. Here 
we encounter the second, and I think more vital, principle of 
language (and perhaps of all symbolism) : Metaphor. 

Here again Wegener's study shows us a natural process, 

s« Wegener, Untersuchungen.p. 40. 



bom of practical exigencies, effecting what ultimately proves 
to be an incomparable achievement. But to follow his reason- 
ing it is necessary to go back to his conception of the nature 
of communication. 

All discourse involves two elements, which may be called, 
respectively, the context (verbal or practical) and the novelty. 
The novelty is what the speaker is trying to point out or to 
express. For this purpose he will use any word that serves him. 
The word may be apt, or it may be ambiguous, or even new; 
the context, seen or stated, modifies it and determines just 
what it means. 

Where a precise word is lacking to designate the novelty 
which the speaker would point out, he resorts to the powers 
of logical analogy, and uses a word denoting something else 
that is a presentational symbol for the thing he means; the 
context makes it clear that he cannot mean the thing literally 
denoted, and must mean something else symbolically. For in- 
stance, he might say of a fire: "It flares up," and be clearly 
understood to refer to the action of the fire. But if he says; 
"The king's anger flares up," we know from the context that 
"flaring up" cannot refer to the sudden appearance of a physi- 
cal flame; it must connote the idea of "flaring up" as a symbol 
for what the king's anger is doing. We conceive the literal 
meaning of the term that is usually used in connection with a 
fire, but this concept serves us here as proxy for another which 
is nameless. The expression "to flare up" has acquired a wider 
meaning than its original use, to describe the behavior of a 
flame; it can be used metaphorically to describe whatever its 
meaning can symbolize. Whether it is to be taken in a literal 
or a metaphorical sense has to be determined by the context. 

In a genuine metaphor, an image of the literal meaning is 
our symbol for the figurative meaning, the thing that has no 
name of its own. If we say that a brook is laughing in the sun- 
light, an idea of laughter intervenes to symbolize the spontane- 
ous, vivid activity of the brook. But if a metaphor is used 
very often, we learn to accept the word in its metaphorical 
context as though it had a literal meaning there. If we say: 
"The brook runs swiftly," the word "runs" does not connote 
any leg-action, but a shallow rippling flow. If we say that a 
rumor runs through the town, we think neither of leg-action 
nor of ripples; or if a fence is said to run round the barnyard 
there is not even a connotation of changing place. Originally 
these were probably all metaphors but one (though it is hard 
to say which was the primitive literal sense) . Now we take the 


word itself to mean that which all its applications have in com- 
mon, namely describing a course. The great extent and fre- 
quency of its metaphorical services have made us aware of the 
basic concept by virtue of which it can function as a symbol 
in so many contexts; constant figurative use has generalized 
its sense. 

Wegener calls such a word a "faded metaphor," and shows, 
in an argument too long and elaborate to be reproduced here, 
that all general words are probably derived from specific ap- 
pellations, by metaphorical use; so that our literal language is 
a very repository of "faded metaphors." 

Since the context of an expression tells us what is its sense 
— whether we shall take it literally or figuratively, and how, 
in the latter case, it is to be interpreted — it follows that the 
context itself must always be expressed literally, because it has 
not, in turn, a context to supplement and define its sense. Only 
the novel predication can be metaphorical. A discourse di- 
vorced from physical situations, i.e. a discourse in which the 
context is entirely expressed and not bound to "empractic" 
utterances, is not possible until some words have acquired 
fixed, general connotations, so that they may serve in a con- 
ventional, literal fashion, to render the exposition of the cru- 
cial assertion. "All words, therefore, which may be logical 
subjects (of predications) and hence expository," says Weg- 
ener, "have acquired this capacity only by virtue of their 'fad- 
ing' in predicational use. And before language had any faded 
words to denote logical subjects, it could not render a situation 
by any other means than a demonstrative indication of it in 
present experience. So the process of fading which we have 
here adduced represents the bridge from the first (one-word) 
. . . phase of language to the developed phase of a discursive 

Metaphor is our most striking evidence of abstractive see- 
ing, of the power of human minds to use presentational sym- 
bols. Every new experience, or new idea about things, evokes 
first of all some metaphorical expression. As the idea becomes 
familiar, this expression "fades" to a new literal use of the 
once metaphorical predicate, a more general use than it had 
before. It is in this elementary, presentational mode that our 
first adventures in conscious abstraction occur. The spontane- 
ous similes of language are our first record of similarities per- 
ceived. The fact that poverty of language, need of emphasis, 

Wegener, Untersuchungen, p. 54. 


or need of circumlocution for any reason whatever,'^ leads us 
at once to seize upon a metaphorical word, shows how natural 
the perception of common form is, and how easily one and 
the same concept is conveyed through words that represent a 
wide variety of conceptions. The use of metaphor can hardly 
be called a conscious device. It is the power whereby language, 
even with a small vocabulary, manages to embrace a multimil- 
lion things; whereby new words are born and merely analogi- 
cal meanings become stereotyped into literal definitions. 
(Slang is almost entirely far-fetched metaphor. Although much 
of it is conscious and humorous in intent, there is always a 
Certain amount of peculiarly apt and expressive slang which is 
ultimately taken into the literary language as "good usage".) 

One might say that, if ritual is the cradle of language, meta- 
phor is the law of its life. It is the force that makes it essen- 
tially relational, intellectual, forever showing up new, abstract- 
able forms in reality, forever laying down a deposit of old, 
abstracted concepts in an increasing treasure of general words. 

The intellectual vocabulary grows with the progress of 
conceptual thinking and civilized living. Technical advances 
make demands on our language which are met by the elabora- 
tion of mathematical, logical, and scientific terminologies. 
Anthropomorphic metaphors are banned, and the philological 
laws of word-change become almost all-important in the pro- 
duction of further nomenclatures and usages. Meanings be- 
come more and more precise; wherefore, as Jespersen says, 
"The evolution of language shows a progressive tendency from 
inseparable conglomerations to freely and regularly combin- 
able short elements." Speech becomes increasingly discur- 
sive, practical, prosaic, until human beings can actually believe 
that it was invented as a utility, and was later embellished 
with metaphors for the sake of a cultural product called poetry. 

One more problem invites our speculation: Why do all men 
possess language? The answer, I think, is that all men possess 
it because they all have the same psychological nature, which 
has reached, in the entire human race, a stage of development 
where symbol-using and symbol-making are dominant activi- 
ties. Whether there were many beginnings of language or few, 
or even only one, we cannot tell; but wherever the first stage 
of speaking, the use of any denotative symbol, was attained, 
there the development of speech probably occurred with phe- 

52 For detailed studies of motives governing tlie use of metaphor, see ^^'^^ 
Werner Die Urspriinge der Mctapher 11919); Hermann Paul, Principles pi tj"' 
History of Language (1888: German, 1880): Alfred Biese, Die Philosophic dr. 
Uclaphorischen (1893). 

" Op.cit., p. 429. 



nomenal speed. For the notion of giving something a name is 
the vastest generative idea that ever was conceived; its influ- 
ence might well transform the entire mode of living and feel- 
ing, in the whole species, within a few generations. We 
ourselves have seen how such a notion as the power-engine 
can alter the world, how other inventions, discoveries, and 
adaptations crowd in its wake. We have watched human in- 
dustry change from handicraft to mass production in every 
phase of life, within the memory of individuals. So with the 
advent of language, save that it must have been more revolu- 
tionary. Once the spark was struck, the light of reason was 
lit; an epoch of phenomenal novelty, mutation, perhaps even 
cerebral evolution, was initiated, as Man succeeded to the 
futile simian that had been himself. Once there were speaking 
men on earth it would take utter isolation to keep any tribe 
from speaking. And unless there have been many cradles of 
mankind, such total isolation of a society, from pre-human 
aeons to historic times, is hard to imagine. 

The general theory of symbolism here set forth, which dis- 
tinguishes between two symbolic modes rather than restricting 
inteUigence to discursive forms and relegating all other con- 
ception to some irrational realm of feeling and instinct, has 
the great advantage of assimilating all mental activity to rea- 
son, instead of grafting that strange product upon a funda- 
mentally unintellectual organism. It accounts for imagination 
and dream, myth and ritual, as well as for practical intelli- 
gence. Discursive thought gives rise to science, and a theory 
of knowledge restricted to its products culminates in the cri- 
tique of science; but the recognition of non-discursive thought 
makes it just as possible to construct a theory of understanding 
that naturally culminates in a critique of art. The parent stock 
of both conceptual types, of verbal and non-verbal formula- 
tion, is the basic human act of symbolic transformation. The 
root is the same, only the flower is different. So now we will 
leave language and all its variants, and turn, for other flowers, 
to other fields. 

6. Life-Symbols: The Koots of Sacrament 

IF LANGUAGE is BORN, indeed, from the profoundly symbolific 
character of the human mind, we may not be surprised to find 
that this mind tends to operate with symbols far below the 



level of speech. Previous studies have shown that even the 
subjective record of sense experience, the "sense-image," is not 
a direct copy of actual experience, but has been "projected," 
in the process of copying, into a new dimension, the more or 
less stabile form we call a picture. It has not the protean, mer- 
curial elusiveness of real visual experience, but a unity and 
lasting identity that makes it an object of the mind's posses- 
sion rather than a sensation. Furthermore it is not firmly and 
fixedly determined by the pattern of natural phenomena, as 
real sensations are, but is "free," in the same manner as the 
little noises which a baby produces by impulse and at will. We 
can call up images and let them fill the virtual space of vision 
between us and real objects, or on the screen of the dark, and 
dismiss them again, without altering the course of practical 
events. They are our own product, yet not part of ourselves as 
our physical actions are; rather might we compare them with 
our uttered words (save that they remain entirely private) , in 
that they are objects to us, things that may surprise, even 
frighten us, experiences that can be contemplated, not merely 

In short, images have all the characteristics of symbols. If 
they were weak sense-experiences, they would confuse the or- 
der of nature for us. Our salvation lies in that we do not nor- 
mally take them for bona fide sensations, but attend to them 
only in their capacity of meaning things, being images of 
things — symbols whereby those things are conceived, remem- 
bered, considered, but not encountered. 

The best guarantee of their essentially symbolic function is 
their tendency to become metaphorical. They are not only 
capable of connoting the things from which our sense-experi- 
ence originally derived them, and perhaps, by the law of asso- 
ciation, the context in which they were derived (as the sight 
of a bell may cause one to think of "ding-dong" and also of 
dinner), but they also have an inalienable tendency to "mean" 
things that have only a logical analogy to their primary mean- 
ings. The image of a rose symbolizes feminine beauty so read- 
ily that it is actually harder to associate roses with vegetables 
than with girls. Fire is a natural symbol of life and passion, 
though it is the one element in which nothing can actually live. 
Its mobility and flare, its heat and color, make it an irresistible 
symbol of all that is Uving, feeling, and active. Images are, 
therefore, our readiest instruments for abstracting concepts 
from the tumbling stream of actual impressions. They make 



our primitive abstractions for us, they are our spontaneous em- 
bodiments of general ideas. 

Just as verbal symbolism has a natural evolution from the 
mere suggestive word or "word-sentence" of babyhood to the 
grammatical edifice we call a language, so presentational sym- 
bolism has its own characteristic development. It grows from 
the momentary, single, static image presenting a simple con- 
cept, to greater and greater units of successive images having 
reference to each other ; changing scenes, even visions of things 
in motion,^ by which we conceive the passage of events. That 
is to say, the first thing we do with images is to envisage a 
story; just as the first thing we do with words is to tell some- 
thing, to make a statement. 

Image-making is, then, the mode of our untutored thinking, 
and stories are its earliest product. We think of things happen- 
ing, remembered or imaginary or prospective ; we see with the 
mind's eye the shoes we should like to buy, and the transac- 
tion of buying them; we visualize the drowning that almost 
happened by the river bank. Pictures and stories are the mind's 
stock-in-trade. Those larger, more complex elements that sym- 
bolize events may contain more than merely visual ingredients, 
kinesthetic and aural and perhaps yet other factors, wherefore 
it is misleading to call them "story-images" ; I will refer to 
them as "fantasies." 

Like all symbols, fantasies are derived from specific experi- 
ence ; even the most elaborately monstrous ones go back to wit- 
nessed events. But the original perception — like any item that 
sticks in the mind — is promptly and spontaneously abstracted, 
and used symbolically to represent a whole kind of actual hap- 
pening. Every process we perceive, if it is to be retained in 
memory, must record itself as a fantasy, an envisagement, by 
virtue of which it can be called up in imagination or recog- 
nized when it occurs again. For no actual process happens 
twice ; only we may meet the same sort of occasion again. The 
second time we "know" already what the event is, because we 
assimilate it to the fantasy abstracted from the previous in- 
stance. It will not fit exactly, and it need not; the fantasy need 
only convey certain general features, the new case only exem- 
plify these generalities in its own way, to make us apprehend 
a recurrence of a familiar event. 

Suppose a person sees, for the first time in his life, a train 
arriving at a station. He probably carries away what we should 

^ Cf. M. Drummond. -'The Xature of Images,'^ British Journal of Psvckohey, 
XVII (1926). 1; 10-19. 


call a "general impression" of noise and mass, steam, human 
confusion, mighty motion coming to heated, panting rest. 
Very possibly he has not noticed the wheels going round, but 
only the rods moving like a runner's knees. He does not in- 
stantly distinguish smoke from steam, nor hissing from squeak- 
ing, nor freight cars from windowed coaches, nor even boiler, 
cab, and coal car from each other. Yet the next time he 
watches a train pull in the process is familiar. His mind re- 
tains a fantasy which "means" the general concept, "a train 
arriving at a station." Everything that happens the second 
time is, to him, like or unlike the first time. The fantasy which 
we call his conception of a halting train gradually builds itself 
up out of many impressions; but its framework was abstracted 
from the very first instance, and made the later ones "familiar." 

The symbolic status of fantasies (in this technical sense of 
action-envisagements) is further attested by the regularity 
with which they follow certain basic laws of symbols. Like 
words and like images, they have not only literal reference to 
concepts, but tend to convey metaphorical meanings. Events 
and actions, motions and emotions, are inexhaustible in our 
short lives; new experience overwhelms us continually; no 
mind can conceive in neat literal terms all the challenges and 
responses, the facts and acts, that crowd in upon it. Yet con- 
ception is its essential technique, and conception requires a 
language of some sort. Among our fantasies there is usually 
something, at least, that will do as a metaphor, and this some- 
thing has to serve, just as the nearest word has to serve in a 
new verbal expression. An arriving train may have to embody 
nameless and imageless dangers coming with a rush to unload 
their problems before me. Under the pressure of fear and con- 
fusion and shrinking, 1 envisage the engine, and the pursuant 
cars of unknown content, as a first symbol to shape my unborn 
concepts. What the arriving train represents is the first aspect 
of those dangers that I can grasp. The fantasy that literally 
means a railroad incident functions here in a new capacity, 
where its literal generality, its applicability to trains, becomes 
irrelevant, and only those features that can symbolize the ap- 
proaching future — power, speed, inevitable direction (sym- 
bolized by the track) , and so forth — remain significant. The 
fantasy here is a figure; a metaphor of wordless cognition. 

• Metaphor is the law of growth of every semantic. It is not a 
development, but a principle. This is strikingly attested by the 
fact that the lowest, completely unintentional products of the 
human brain are madly metaphorical fantasies, that often make 



no literal sense whatever; 1 mean the riotous symbolism of 

The first thing we instinctively strive to conceive is simply 
the experience of being alive. Life is a network of needs and 
fulfilments and further needs, with temporary frustrations 
here and there. If its basic needs are long unsatisfied, it ends. 
Our first consciousness is the sense of need, i.e. desire. There- 
fore our most elementary conceptions are of ob'-'Cts for desire. 

The shapes and relations and names of such objects are un- 
known to the infant's mind. Food it knows, but not the source 
of food, beyond the mere touch and vague form of the moth- 
er's breast. Comfort and security, human nearness, light and 
motion — all these objects have neither substance nor fixed 
identity. The first images that sense impression begets in his 
mind have to serve for the whole gamut of his desires, for all 
things absent. Everything soft is a mother; everything that 
meets his reach is food. Being dropped, even into bed, is ter- 
ror itself — the first definite form of insecurity, even of death 
(all our lives we speak of misfortune as a "fall" ; we fall into 
the enemy's hands, fall from grace, fall upon hard times) . 

In the brief waking spells when his sense organs are learn- 
ing to make report, when noises overcome his initial deafness 
and colors or light-spaces arrest his wandering focus, his in- 
fantile symbols multiply. Wish and fantasy grow up together. 
Since the proper function of his mind is conception, he pro- 
duces ideas without number. He does not necessarily feel de- 
sire for everything he can think and dream; desire is only the 
power behind the mind, which goads it into action, and makes 
it productive. An overactive mind is uncritical, as a voracious 
appetite is unfastidious. Children mix dream and reality, fact 
and fiction, and make impossible combinations of ideas in their 
haste to capture everything, to conceive an overwhelming flood 
of experiences. Of course the stock of their imagery is always 
too small for its purpose, so every symbol has to do metaphori- 
cal as well as literal duty. The result is a dreamlike, shifting 
picture, a faery "world." 

Something like this may be seen not only in our children, 
whose free fancy is somewhat hemmed by the literal logic of 
adults around them, but in primitive societies, where the best 
thought still bears a childlike stamp. Among certain peoples 
whom we call "savage," the very use of language exhibits a 
rampant confusion of metaphorical meanings clinging to 
every symbol, sometimes to the complete obscurance of any 

life-symbols: THE ROOTS OF SACRAMENT 121 

reasonable literal meaning. Cailliet,- who made a study of this 
phenomenon, calls this the "vegetative" stage of thought, lik- 
ening the tremendous tangle of non-literal symbolism to a 
jungle where things choke each other in their overgrowth. ^ 
The cause for this sumptuous prodigality of symbols lies in 
the intellectual needs of an adolescent race. When new, unex- 
ploited possibilities of thought crowd in upon the human 
mind, the poverty of everyday language becomes acute. Appre- 
hension outruns comprehension so far that every phrase, how- 
ever homely and literal it may be in its traditional meaning, 
has a vague aura of further significance. Such a state of mind 
is peculiarly favorable to the development of metaphorical 

It is characteristic of figurative images that their allegorical 
status is not recognized. Only a mind which can apprehend 
both a literal and a "poetic" formulation of an idea is in a 
position to distinguish the figure from its meaning. In spon- 
taneous envisagement there is no such duality of form and con- 
tent. In our most primitive presentations — the metaphorical 
imagery of dreams — it is the symbol, not its meaning, that 
seems to command our emotions. We do not know it as a 
symbol. In dream-experience we very often find some fairly 
commonplace object — a tree, a fish, a pointed hat, a staircase — 
fraught with intense value or inspiring the greatest terror. We 
cannot tell what makes the thing so important. It simply seems 
to be so in the dream. The emotional reaction is, of course, 
evoked by the idea embodied in that object, but so long as the 
idea lives only in this body we cannot distinguish it from its 
symbolic incarnation which, to literal-minded common sense, 
seems trivial. 

Primitive thought is not far removed from the dream level. 
It operates with very similar forms. Objects that could function 

as dream-symbols have a mysterious significance for the wak- 
ing mind, too, and are viewed with emotion, even though 
they have never served a practical purpose for good or for 
evil. The Australian's churinga, the Egyptian's scarab, the 
charms which Greek women carried to the altar, are such 

2 Emile Cailliet. Symbolisme et ames primitives (Paris, 1936), chap. iv. 

» The same fig'-ire WIS used by Jespersen {Language p. 428) to describe the 
form-producing period of primitive language, and by Whitehead iSymbolism^p, 61) 
in speaking of undis'^ipHned syn^bol-mon-^ering. 

* There are certain backward races whi-h, like backward persons, seem to have 
become arrested in the age of their adolescence. They are no linger vig-trously 
imagin tive, yet h^ve never outgrown the effect of thit "vegetative" stage; so they 
have inc rpirated figurative speech in the genteel tradition of their social inter- 
course. Tiieir metaphors are not new and revealing, they are conventional, and 
serve only to interfere with the progress of literal conception. 



objects of indescribable value, dream-symbols found and treas- 
ured in waking life. With their realistic presence, the imagina- 
tive process is carried over from dream to reality; fantasy is 
externalized in the veneration of "sacra." 

The study of dreams gives us a clue to the deeper meaning 
of these bizarre holy articles; they are phallic symbols and 
death-symbols. We need not consult the psychoanalysts to 
learn this truth; any student of anthropology or archeology 
can assure us of it. Life and life-giving, death and the dead, 
are the great themes of primitive religion. Gods are at first 
merely emblems of the creative power; fetishes, trees, menhirs. 
Certain animals are natural symbols to mankind: the snake 
hidden in earth, the bull strong in his passion, the mysterious 
long-lived crocodile who metes out unexpected death. When, 
with the advance of civilization, their images are set up in 
temples or borne in processions, such images are designed to 
emphasize their symbolic force rather than their natural shapes. 
The snake may be homed or crowned or bearded, the bulf 
may have wings or a human head. 

Such sacra command a peculiar emotion, which is not the 
simple joy of possessing something advantageous, e.g. a strong 
weapon or a new slave; the "rejoicing" of a religious cere- 
monial is not a spontaneous delight which causes people to 
raise the cry of triumph, as we shout when we catch a big fish 
or win a game. The supposed power of the god to protect his 
worshipers would be no more apt to evoke cries of "hallelu- 
jah" than the tacitly accepted power of a father to protect his 
children. Our children live under the guarantee of our superior 
strength and have a sense of security in it, but they do not 
periodically burst into praises of it. Religious rejoicing is 
bound entirely to set occasions, when the god-symbol — which 
probably is always there, tucked away in its shrine — is brought 
forth and officially contemplated. Even this is not enough; 
someone leads the shouting and makes a demonstration of 
joy; gradually the feeling develops, and delight seizes the 
congregation. Their joy is not in an event, but in a presented 
idea. It centers round objects that are themselves quite passive, 
and useless for any other purpose than conveying the idea. 

The power of conception — of "having ideas" — is man's pe- 
culiar asset, and awareness of this power is an exciting sense of 
human strength. Nothing is more thrilling than the dawn of a 
new conception. The symbols that embody basic ideas of life 
and death, of man and the world, are naturallv sacred. But 

naive thinking does not distinguish between symbol and im- 
port; it sees only the physical chnringa or the clay thermos , 
or, where the symbol is not made by human art, but chosen 
among natural objects, it sees the actual snake or ibis, oak tree 
or arhor vitae. There is no explicit reason why sacredness be- 
longs to such an object, only a strong feeling that in it the 
luck and hope and power of man is vested. The practical 
efficacy attributed to sacra is a dream-metaphor for the might 
of human ideation. Their "mightiness" is thought of as specific 
efficacy; whatever expresses Life is regarded as a source of 
life, whatever expresses Death as an agent of death. The sav- 
age's allef;ed stupidity about causal relations rests on this very 
profonnr! law of mind, which is exemplified not only in primi- 
tive religions, but in our own pious beliefs, e.g. that the devil 
can be averted by holding up a little cross against him, or that 
a picture of the Virgin Mother protects a house against evil. 
Such notions rest on a natural identification of symbolic values 
with practical values, of the expressive with the physical func- 
tions of a thing. But this identification is too deeply grounded 
to be put aside as a "silly" mistake. It is symptomatic of our 
supreme and constant preoccupation with ideas, our spontane- 
ous attention to expressive forms, that causes us to mix their 
importance with the importance of other activities by which 
life is carried on. 

The contemplation of sacra invites a certain intellectual ex- 
citement — intellectual because it centers in a mental activity — 
the excitement of realizing life and strength, manhood, con- 
test, and death. The whole cycle of human emotions is touched 
by such a contemplation. Undoubtedly the first outward show 
of sacred emotions is purely self-expressive, an unconscious 
issue of feelings into shouting and prancing or rolling on the 
earth, like a baby's tantrum; but soon the outburst becomes a 
habitual reaction and is used to demonstrate, rather than to 
relieve, the feelings of individuals. Lively demonstration 
makes an emotion contagious. Shout answers shout, the collec- 
tive prancing becomes dancing. Even those who are not com- 
pelled by inner tension to let off steam just at this moment, 
fall into step and join the common cry. 

But as soon as an expressive act is performed without inner 
momentary compulsion it is no longer self-expressive; it is 
expressive in the logical sense. It is not a sign of the emotion 
it conveys, but a symbol of it; instead of completing the nat- 
ural history of a feeling, it denotes the feeling, and may merely 



bring it to mind, even for the actor. When an action acquires 
such a meaning it becomes a ^estrire!^ 

Genuine acts are completed in every detail unless they are 
forcibly interrupted, but gestures may be quite abortive imita- 
tions of acts, showing only their significant features. They are 
expressive forms, true symbols. Their aspect becomes fixed, 
they can be deliberately used to communicate an idea of the 
feelings that begot their prototypes. Because they are deliber- 
ate gestures, not ernotional acts, they are no longer subject to 
spontaneous variation, but bound to an often meticulously 
exact repetition, which gradually makes their forms as famil- 
iar as words or tunes. 

With the formalization of overt behavior in the presence of 
the sacred objects, we come into the field of ritual. This is, so 
to speak, a complement to the life-symbols; for as the latter 
present the basic facts of human existence, the forces of gen- 
eration and achievement and death, so the rites enacted at 
their contemplation formulate and record man's response to 
those supreme realities. Ritual "expresses feelings" in the 
logical rather than the physiological sense. It may have what 
Aristotle called "cathartic" value, but that is not its character- 
istic; it is primarily an articulation of feelings. The ultimate 
product of such articulation is not a simple emotion, but a 
complex, permanent attitude. This attitude, which is the wor- 
shipers' response to the insight given by the sacred symbols, is 
an emotional pattern, which governs all individual lives. It 
cannot be recognized through any clearer medium than that 
of formalized gesture ; yet in this cryptic form it is recognized, 
and yields a strong sense of tribal or congregational unity, of 
Tightness and security. A rite regularly performed is the con- 
stant reiteration of sentiments toward "first and last things" ; 
it is not a free expression of emotions, but a disciplined re- 
hearsal of "right attitudes." 

But emotional attitudes are always closely linked with the 
exigencies of current life, colored by immediate cares and de- 
sires, by specific memories and hopes. Since the sacra are con- 
sciously regarded not as symbols of Life and Death, but as Jife- 
givers and death-dealers, they are not only revered, but also 
besought, trusted, feared, placated with service and sacrifice. 
Their power is invoked for the salvation of worshipers in 

' Cf. L. A. Reid, "Beauty and Significance," Proceedings of the Aristotelian 
Society. N.S. XXIX (1929), 123-154, esp. p. 144: "If an expression, which at 
first was automatic, is repeated for the slieer joy of expression, at that point it 
becomes sesthetic. . . . Anger enjoyed in being acted consciously is not mere 
instinctive anger, but dramatic (sometimes melodramatic) anger, a very different 


times of danger. They can break the drought, end famine, 
stay a pestilence, or turn the tide of battle. The sacred ark go- 
ing up before the Children of Israel gives them their victory. 
Held by the Philistines, it visits disease on its captors. Its effi- 
cacy is seen in every triumph of the community, every attain- 
ment and conquest. Specific events as well as definite feelings 
become associated with a Holy of Holies, and seek expression 
round the altar. 

This is the source of mimetic ritual. The memory of cele- 
brated events is strong in the celebration that renders thanks 
to the saving Power; it enters, perhaps quite unconsciously at 
first, into the gestures and shouts traditionally conveying such 
thanks. The story is retold, because it reveals the character of 
the Holy One, and as the telling soon becomes a formula, the 
gesticulations that accompany it become traditional gestures, 
new bodily expressions that can be woven into ritual patterns. 
The flourish of swords that accompanies the recall of a great 
exploit is presently carried out at definite points in the narra- 
tive, so that the congregation may join in it, as it joins in 
shouts like "Hallelujah," "lacchos," or "Amen" at recognized 
periods. The gesture acquires a swing and rhythm of its own 
so it can be performed in genuine unison. At the end of the 
story it may be elaborated into a long demonstration, a "sword- 

Another and even more obvious origin of mimetic rites 
Ues not in sacred story, but in supplication. Here conception 
is even more vivid, more urgent than in memory; an act is to 
be suggested and recommended to the only Being that can 
perform it, the Holy One; the suppliants, in their eagerness 
to express their desire, naturally break into pantomime.^ Rep- 
resentations of the act mingle with gestures of entreaty. And 
just as the expressive virtue of sacra is conceived as physical 
virtue, so the symbolic power of mimetic rites is presently re- 
garded as causal efficacy; hence the world-wide and world-old 
belief in sympathetic magic. It really sinks to the inane con- 
ception of "magic" only when one assumes a direct relation 
between the mimicked event and the expected real one; in so 
far as the pantomime is enacted before a fetish, a spirit, or 
God, it is intended to move this divine power to act, and is 
simply a primitive prayer. We are often told that savage re- 
ligion begins in magic ; but the chances are, I think, that magic 
begins in religion. Its typical form — the confident, practical 

" Cf. W. W. Newell, "Ritual Regarded as the Dramatization of Myth," Inter- 
national Congress of Antkropology (1894), 237-245; also W. Matthews, "Some 
Illustrations of the Coimection between Myths and Ceremony," ibid., pp. 446-251. 



use of a formula, a brew, and a rite to achieve a piiysical ef- 
fect — is the empty shell of a religious act. Confused, inferior 
minds may retain it, even in a society that no longer thinks in 
terms of hidden agency, but sees causally connected phenom- 
ena ; and so we come to the absurd practice of a "magic" that is 
supposed to defy natural law. 

Religion is a gradual envisagement of the essential pattern 
of human life, and to this insight almost any object, act, or 
event may contribute. There is no ingredient in ritual that may 
not also be found outside it. Sacred objects are not intrinsi- 
cally precious, but derive their value from their religious use. 
Formalized expressive gesture occurs in the most casual social 
intercourse, in greetings, marks of deference, or mock defiance 
(like the grimaces school-children make behind the back of 
an unpopular teacher, mainly for each other's benefit) . As for 
mimetic gestures, they are the current and often unconscious 
accompaniment of all dramatic imagination. It need not be of 
serious or important acts. Mimicry is the natural symbolism by 
which we represent activities to our minds. It is so obvious a 
semantic that even where no act is carried out, but every idea 
merely suggested, pantomime is universally understood. Victor 
the Wild Boy of Aveyron, and even Wild Peter who was less 
intelligent, could understand mimetic expression at once, with- 
out any trainins, though neither ever learned language. 

Before a symbolic form is put to public religious use — be- 
fore it serves the difficult art of presenting really profound 
ideas — it has probably had a long career in a much homelier 
capacity. Long before men perform rites which enact the 
phases of life, they have learned such acting in play. And the 
play of children is very instructive if we would observe the 
peculiarly intellectual (non-practical) nature of gesture. If its 
purpose were, as is commonly supposed, to learn by imitation, 
an oft-repeated enactment should come closer and closer to 
reality, and a familiar act be represented better than a novel 
one; instead of that we are apt to find no attempt at carrying 
out the suggested actions of the shared day-dreams that con- 
stitute young children's play. 

"Now I go away" — three steps away from the center of the 
game constitute this process. "And you must be crying" — the 
deserted one puts her hands before her face and makes a little 
pathetic sound. "Now I sew your fairy dress" — a hand with 
all five fingertips pressed together describes little circles. But 
the most convincingly symbolic gesture is that of eating. Chil- 
dren are interested in eating, and this much-desired occasion 


arises often in tlieir games. Yet their imitation of tiiat process 
is perhaps their least realistic act. There is no attempt to simu- 
late the use of a spoon or other implement; the hand that 
carries the imaginary food to the mouth moves with the speed 
of a short clock-pendulum, the lips whisper "B-b-b-b-b." 
This sort of imitation would never serve the purpose of learn- 
ing an activity. It is an abbreviated, schematized form of an 
action. Whether or not the child could perform the act is irrele- 
vant; eating is an act learned long ago, sewing is probably a 
total mystery: Yet the imitation of sewing, though clumsy, is 
not as poor as that of the banquet. 

The better an act is understood and the more habitually it is 
associated with a symbolic gesture, the more formal and cur- 
sory may be the movement that represents it. Just as the white 
settlers of this country first called an Indian feast a "Pow! 
Wow! Wow!" and later referred to it quite off-handedly as 
"a pow-wow," so a child's representation of sewing, fighting, 
or other process will be really imitative at first, but dwindle 
to almost nothing if the game is played often. It becomes an 
act of reference rather than of representation. 

The fact that so much of primitive religious ritual is mi- 
metic, and that mimicry is the typical form of children's play, 
has misled some excellent philosophers, notably John Dewey, 
to believe that rites are simply a repetition of practical be- 
havior for the fun of the action itself — a repetition which 
presently becomes habitual, and has to be dignified by the 
imputation of magical usefulness. "Men make a game of their 
fishing and hunting, and turn to the periodic and disciplinary 
labor of agriculture only when inferiors, women or slaves, can- 
not be had to do the work. Useful labor is, whenever possible, 
transformed by ceremonial and ritual accompaniments, sub- 
ordinated to art that yields immediate enjoyment; otherwise it 
is attended to under compulsion of circumstance during ab- 
breviated surrenders of leisure. For leisure permits of festivity, 
in revery, ceremonies and conversation. The pressure of neces- 
sity is, however, never wholly lost, and the sense of it led men, 
as if with uneasy conscience at their respite from work, to 
impute practical efficacy to play and rites, endowing them with 
power to coerce events and to purchase the favor of the rulers 
of events. ... It was not conscience that kept men loyal to 
cults and rites, and faithful to tribal myths. So far as it was 
not routine, it was enjoyment of the drama of life without the 
latter's liabilities that kept piety from decay. Interest in rites as 
means of influencing the course of things, and the cognitive 



or explanation office of myths were hardly more than an em- 
broider)', repeating in pleasant form the pattern which inex- 
pugnable necessities imposed upon practice. When rite and 
myth are spontaneous rehearsal of the impact and career of 
practical needs and doings, they must also seem to have prac- 
tical force." ^ 

From this standpoint it is hard to understand why savage 
rites so often involve terrible tortures — branding, flaying, 
knocking out teeth, cutting off finger-joints, etc. Puberty-rites, 
for instance, in which boys sometimes die under the knife or 
the whip, can hardly be described as "enjoyment of the drama 
of life without the latter's liabilities." Such actions are far 
removed from play. Their instrumental value for brmging 
about victories, fertility, or general good luck is undoubtedly 
secondary, as Professor Dewey says; but their primary achieve- 
ment is not entertainment, but morale. They are part of man's 
ceaseless quest for conception and orientation. They embody 
his dawning notions of power and will, of death and victory, 
they give active and impressive form to his demoniac fears 
and ideals. Ritual is the most primitive reflection of serious 
thought, a slow deposit, as it were, of people's imaginative in- 
sight into life. That is why it is intrinsically solemn, even 
though some rites of rejoicing or triumph may degenerate into 
mere excitement, debauchery, and license. 

If men's minds were essentially playful, they could have no 
"uneasy conscience at their respite from work." Young dogs 
and young children, to whom play is a necessity, have no such 
conscience. Only people who feel that play displaces some- 
thing more vital can disapprove of it; otherwise, if the bare 
necessities were taken care of, work in itself could command 
no respect, and we would play with all the freedom in the 
world, if practical work and sheer enjoyment were our only 

But the driving force in human minds is fear, which begets 
an imperious demand for security in the world's confusion, a 
demand for a world-picture that fills all experience and gives 
each individual a definite orientation amid the terrifying 
forces of nature and society. Objects that embody such in- 
sights, and acts which express, preserve, and reiterate them, 
are indeed more spontaneously interesting, more serious than 

The universality of the concepts which religion tries to 

' John Dewey, Experience and Nature (Chicago & London: Open Court Pub- 
i:Aing Co., 1925), pp. 78-79. 


formulate draws all nature into the domain of ritual. The ap- 
parently mis'^uided efforts of savaces to induce rri'n t->v dancing 
and dnimming are not practical mistakes at all; they ^re r'tes 
in which the rain has a part. White observers of Indian rain- 
dances have often commented on the fact that in an extraor- 
dinary number of instances the dov/npour really "results." 
Others, of a more cynical turn, remark that the leaders of the 
dance know the weather so well that they time their dance to 
meet its approaching changes and simulate "rain-making." 
This may well be the case; yet it is not a pure imposture. A 
"magic" effect is one which completes a rite. No savage tries 
to induce a snowstorm in midsummer, nor prays for the ripen- 
ing of fruits entirely out of season, as he certainly would if he 
considered his dance and prayer the physical causes of such 
events. He dances with the rain, he invites the elements to do 
their part, as they are thought to be somewhere about and 
merely irresponsive. This accounts for the fact that no evi- 
dence of past failures discourages his practices; for if heaven 
and earth do not answer him, the rite is simply unconsum- 
mated; it was not therefore a "mistake." Its failure can be re- 
deemed by finding some extenuating circumstance, some 
"counter-charm" that explains the miscarriage of the usual 
climax. There is no evil intent in the devices of medicine men 
to insure, or even to stimulate, answers to magical invocations; 
for the most important virtue of the rite is not so much its 
practical as its religious success. Rain-making may well have 
begun in the celebration of an imminent shower after long 
drought; that the first harbinger clouds would be greeted with 
entreat)', excitement, and mimetic suggestion is obvious. The 
ritual evolves while a capricious heaven is making up its mind. 
Its successive acts mark the stages that bring the storm nearer. 
Its real import — its power to articulate a relation between man 
and nature, vivid at the moment — can be recognized only in 
the metaphorical guise of a physical power to induce the 

Sympathetic magic, springing from mimetic ritual, belongs 

* The expressive function of ritual is properly distinj^uished from the practical 
in an article by Alfred Vierkandt, "Die entwi^k'nngspsvchologi^che The' rie der 
Zai'berei," Arch'v fur gesammte Psychologic, XCVIII n937), 420-489. Vierkandt 
treats fhe causal conception as a superimposed one. "The [mimetic] activity," he 
says, "appears as a means to the desired end. If this end is all that motivates the 
rite, then the latter has changed from a purely expressive act to a purposive act. 
. , . In the course of this change there may be all p^ssib'e gratlations of the 
relationship between these two structures, from the merest _ superi^nposition of a 
purposive activi'y to the complete extincti n of the expressive need. At the one 
extreme, tlie practical end is a mere superstructure, an ideology, white the driving 
force is the desire for expression. . . . The other extreme is the genuine purposive 
act, in which the whole is organized according to the categories of means and ends. 


mainly to tribal, primitive religion. There is, however, a type 
of ceremonial that runs the whole pamut from the most savage 
to the most civilized piety, from blind compulsive behavior, 
through magical conjurinc, to the heights of conscious impres- 
sion : that is the Sacrament. 

The overt form of a sacrament is usually a homely, familiar 
action, such as washing, eating, drinking; sometimes a more 
special performance — slaughter, or sexual union — but still an 
act that is essentially realistic and vital. At first sisht it seems 
strange that the highest symbohc import should attach to the 
lowliest activities, especially as the more commonplace and 
frequent of these are the most universal sacraments. But if we 
consider the genesis of such profound and ancient symbols we 
can understand their origin in commonplace events. 

Before a behavior-pattern can become imbued with second- 
ary meanings, it must be definite, and to the smallest detail 
familiar. Such forms are naturally evolved only in activities 
that are open repeated. An act that is habitually performed 
acquires an almost mechanical form, a sequence of motions 
that practice makes quite invariable. Besides the general repeti- 
tion of what is done there is a repetition of the way it is done 
by a certain person. For instance, two people putting bread 
into their mouths are doing the same thing, but they may do 
it in widely different manner, according to their respective 
temperaments and traditions ; their behavior, though purposive 
and real, contains unconsciously an element of gesture. 

This formal element offers high possibilities to the symbol- 
seeking mind. Just as one person develops personal "ways," 
so a tribe develops tribal "ways," which are handed down as 
unconscious mannerisms, until some breach in the usual pat- 
tern makes people aware of them, and they are deliberately 
practiced as "correct forms." As soon as they are thus ab- 
stracted, these proper gestures acquire tribal importance; 
someone sees a secondary meaning in an act which has at- 
tained such a formal unity and style. It seems to have a sym- 
bolic as well as a practical function; a new, emotional impor- 
tance attaches to it. In a society whose symbolific impulse is 
in the riotous, "vegetative" stage, a practical act like dividing 
food, or eating the first new com of the season, maybe so ex- 
citing as an idea that it actually loses its old material interest 
in the new, mystical one. Many savages have foods that may 
be eaten only ritually, and there have been Christians who 
frowned on all washing and bathing that was not incidental to 
a rite. 


These last-named acts of cleansing and purification furnish 
a good case in point. Washing away dirt is a simple, practical 
act; but its symbolic value is so striking that one might say 
the act has a "natural meaning." * Eating, likewise, is a daily 
practice, but is so easily significant of the kinship among those 
who eat together, and the even closer connection — identifica- 
tion — of the eaters with the eaten, that it has a certain sacra- 
mental character for any mind that is capable of general con- 
cepts at all. As soon as the symbolical import of (say) eating 
an animal dawns, the feast is conducted in a new spirit; not 
food, but animal characteristics, constitute its fare. The meat 
becomes a host; though the indwelling virtue may have no 
name of its own, and therefore may be thinkable only in terms 
of this eating, this gathering, this taste and smell and place. 
Because an occasion is the only symbol by which the new vir- 
tue is known, that occasion must have permanent form, that it 
may be repeated, the virtue recalled, reinvoked; and so the 
abstractabie features of the occasion — the manners and man- 
nerisms that were simply learned folkways, habitual patterns 
— are exalted into sacred procedure. The meat must be served 
in the same order, cut in the same shape and from the same 
part, every time it is to be eaten rituallv. Gradually every de- 
tail becomes charged with meaning. Every gesture signifies 
some step in the acauisition of animal virtue. According to 
the law of all primitive symbolization, this significance is felt 
not as such, but as genuine efficacy; the feast not only drama- 
tizes, but actually negotiates the desired acquisition. Its per- 
formance is magical as well as expressive. And so we have the 
characteristic blend of power and meaning, mediation and 
presentation, that belongs to sacraments, 

Whether a dim perception of sacramental forces and dan- 
gers in the routine actions of life underlies the rigid religious 
control that almost all primitive societies hold over daily food 
and drink and housekeeping, we cannot stop to investigate 
here. What matters in the present context is merely that mean- 
ing and magic pervade savage life to such an extent that any 

• Professor Urban reserves the term "true symbol" entirely for expressions wliose 
meaning is tlius "nqturally" suggested, and treats all other symbols as signs (cf. 
Language and Reality^ part II, esp. pp. 402-40°). For reasons explained above, I 
cannot subscribe to this us^ge, as the distinction between signs and symbols seems 
to me to lie in a different dimension. 

^"For a modern example, consider the following statement by W. H. Frere: 
*'The Eucharist is one homogeneous and continuous action and goes forward, if one 
may say so, like a drama; it has its prelude, its working up, its climax, its 
epilogue. . . . The Eucharist was to sum up and supersede all older rites and 
sacrifices; and it has been from the first the central Christian sacrament, not 
significant only, but efficacious." The Principles of Religious Ceremonial (New 
York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1928), pp. 37-39 italics mine). 



behavior-pattern, any striking visual form or musical rhythm, 
any question or announcement made often enough to become a 
formula, acquires some symbolic or mystical function; this 
stage of thinking is the creative period for religion. In it the 
great life-symbols are established and developed. Concepts 
which are far beyond the actual grasp of savage or semi-sav- 
age minds are apprehended, though not comprehended, in 
physical embodiments, sacred fetishes, idols, animals; human 
attitudes, vaguely recognized as reasonable and right, are ex- 
pressed by actions which are not spontaneous emotional out- 
lets but prescribed modes of participation and assent. 

Rites of supplication and offering cannot forever be ad- 
dressed to a nameless symbol, a mere bundle of sticks, jaw- 
bone, grave-mound, or monolith. The Holy One has a part, 
howbeit a silent part, to play in the ceremony; as the cult 
develops, the presiding power acquires an epithet expressing 
this function: "She who Harkens," "He of Appeasement," 
"He of Sword-play, He of the Sword." The epithet serves as 
a name, and soon becomes a name; the name fixes a character 
which gradually finds expression in new physical representa- 
tions. So the pillar that was once a phallic symbol becomes a 
"Herm," and the rock that was itself taboo shelters a sacred 
snake to account for its holiness. The snake can see and hear, 
respond or retire, strike or spare. The snake can be a forgiver, 
the Herm can be a watcher. 

Of course this is a step from sheer superstition toward the- 
ology, toward conceiving gods instead of mere magical cult- 
objects. But the envisagement of such "gods" is as yet entirely 
naive; "He of the Sword" may be represented as a sword, and 
"She who Harkens" may not only have, but be, an eat.i^ The 
first idea of a god is not that of an anthropomorphic being 
that dwells in an object, e.g. in a certain tree; it is simply a 
notion of the object itself as a personality, as an agent par- 
ticipating in the ritual. This participation is what lifts it above 
mere magical potency to something like a personal will. The 
might of the cult-objects, charms or sacred arks or holy wells, 
is simply efficacy , 'that of gods, whether they be trees, ani- 
mals, statutes, or dead men, is ability. A charm is made to 
operate by a correct ritual; a deity is invoked by being pleased, 
either by service or flattery. The rite may persist for ages, but 
when the Holy One becomes a god, the keynote of ritual be- 
comes prayer. One cannot simply draw "mana" from him as 

" See Jane Harrison. Proleeomena to the Study of Creek Relieion (2nd ed- 
Cambridge, 1908), p. 187. 

from the presence of holy things; one has to ask him to exert 
his talents. Therefore his worshipers recite the catalogue of 
his virtues — his valor, wisdom, goodness, the wonders of his 
favor, the terrors of his displeasure. In this way his traits be- 
come very definitely and publicly accepted. Every asset his 
worshipers seek is his, and in his gift. His image tends more 
and more to express this enhanced character; he is the sum- 
mary of a human ideal, the ideal of his tribe. 

Herein lies the rationale of animal worship, which seems to 
have preceded, almost universally, the evolution of higher re- 
hgions. A god who symbolizes moral qualities does well to 
appear in animal form; for a humnn incarnation would be 
confusing. Human personalities are complex, extremely varied, 
hard to define, hard to generalize; but animals run very true 
to type. The strength of the bull, the shiftiness of the rabbit, 
the sinuous mobility of the snake, the solemnity of the owl, 
are exemplified with perfect definiteness and simplicity by 
every member of their respective species. Before men can find 
these traits clearly in themselves they can see them typified in 
animals. The beast that symbolizes a virtue, physical or moral, 
is divine to men who see and envy that virtue in it. It is the 
possessor, hence the possible dispenser, of its peculiar quality. 
Therefore it is honored, wooed, placated, and sometimes sacra- 
menta.lly eaten by its worshipers. 

The man who sees his ideal in an animal calls himself by its 
name, because, exemplifying his highest aspirations as it does, 
it is his "true self." We who have higher gods still describe 
our enemies as the beasts we despise — they are "perfect asses," 
"just pigs," or on extreme provocation "skunks." Men who 
still look up to animals bestow analogous titles on human be- 
ings in a reverent spirit. Those to whom the swift, intensely 
vital and prolific hare is a symbol of life and fertility, think of 
themselves as hares, and attribute even more harishness to 
their venerated, beatified ancestors. They were the "Great 
Hares." A civilized man would mean this epithet metaphori- 
cally, but the primitive mind is always losing its way between 
symbol and meaning, and freely changes "My earliest ancestor 
was a "Hare," " into "A hare was my first ancestor." 

Here is probably the genesis of totemism. The fact that to- 
tems feature all kinds of animals and even plants does not pre- 
clude such an origin; for once a tribe has adopted an animal 
form to express its essence, other tribes will follow suit by 
sheer imitation, without the same motive, choosing different 
animals to distinguish them from their neighbors. They may 



have no original notion of any ideal. A tribal ideal is then 
former) in keeping with the symbol, if at all. But the primary 
concT0tion of a totem must have sprung from some insight 
into the human significance of an apimal form; perhaps a 
purely sexual significance, perhaps a sublimer notion of savage 

Such speculation is borne out by the fact that it is the animal 
form rather than any Vw'ms, representative of the species that 
is preeminently holy, ftmile Durkhe'm, who has made a close 
study of totemism in Les formes Himentahes de la vie reli- 
gieuse, warns against the fallacy of seeing a simple animal 
worshm in its practices; for in the course of such study, he 
says, "One comes to the remarkable conclusion that images of 
the totem-creature are more sacred than the totem-creature 
itself. "12 

"Here is the real nature of the totem: it is nothing but the 
material form by which human minds can picture that imma- 
terial substance, that energy diffused throughout all sorts of 
heterogeneous things, that power which alone is the true object 
of the cult." J ^ Moreover, it is this Power concentrated in the 
character of the clan — the social influence and authority — 
wh'ch. in M. Durkhe'm's opinion, is the real divinity. 

"The totem is the banner of the clan," he says; and fur- 
ther, "Since the religious Power is nothing else than the col- 
lective and nameless Power of the clan, and since this is not 
capable of representation except through the totem, the to- 
temic emb'em is like the vis'ble body of the god. . . . This 
explains why, in the hierarchy of things sacred, it holds the 
highest place. . . . 

"Why is it forbidden to kill and eat the totem-animal, and 
why has its flesh these positive virtues which give it its part 
in ritual ? Because this animal resembles the tribal emblem, 
namely its own image. And as of course it resembles it more 
closely than man, it has a higher rank than he in the hierarchy 
of holies." 1* 

Durkheim's whole analysis of totemism bears out the con- 
tention that it is, like all sacraments, a form of ideation, an 
expression of concepts in purely presentational metaphor. 

"Religion is, first and foremost, a system of ideas by means 
of which individuals can envisage the society of which they 
are members, and the relations, obscure yet intimate, which 
they bear to it. That is the primordial task of a faith. And 
though it be metaphorical and symbolical, it is not therefore 

" Op. cit. (Paris, 1912), p. 189. " Ibid., p. 270. •* Ibid., pp. 315-318. 


untrue. On the contrary, it conveys al! that is essential in the 
relations it claims to portray. . . ," is 

"The believer is not deceiving himself when he puts his 
faith in the existence of a moral potency, on which he is de- 
pendent, and to which he owes his better part; this Power 
exists, it is Society. . . . Doubtless, he is mistaken when he 
believes that the enhancement of his vital strength is the work 
of a Being that looks like an animal or a plant. But his error 
lies only in the literal reading of the symbol by which this 
Being is presented to his mind, the external aspect under 
which his imagination conveys it, and does not touch the fact 
of its existence. Behind these figures and metaphors, however 
gross or refined they may be. there lies a concrete and living 

From such primitive sacramentalism to a real theology, a 
belief in Olympians who lie on beds of asphodel, or in a 
heavenly Jerusalem where a triune God sits enthroned, may 
seem so far a call that one may incline to doubt whether 
human imagination could have passed continuously from one 
to the other. The mentalities of Australian aborigines and of 
European worshipers, ancient and modern, appear to be just 
worlds apart; the Sacred Emu does not give any promise of a 
future Zeus, nor does a lizard in a cave appear to foreshadow 
the Christian God of Love. Yet when we trace the histories 
of such high divinities back to their antecedents in earlier 
ages, there is an astonishing kinship between those antece- 
dents and the local deities of Australian, African, or American 
savages. We have no evidence that genuine totemism ever ex- 
isted in Europe; but of animal cults we have convincing proof. 
Luck has it that one of the most civilized religions of all time, 
namely the Greek, has inscribed the whole course of its evo- 
lution for us on the places where it flourished — on the temples 
and households, cemeteries and libraries that tell the story of 
Hellas from its dawn to its slow destruction; and that a classi- 
cal scholar with patience and insight has traced that evolution 
from its earliest recoverable phases to its last decadent forms. 
For, as Professor Gilbert Murray has said, "In this department 
as in others, ancient Greece has the triumphant if tragic dis- 
tinction of beginning at the very bottom and struggling, how- 
ever precariously, to the very summits. There is hardly any 
horror of primitive superstition of which we cannot find some 
distant traces in our Greek record. There is hardly any height 
of spiritual thought attained in the world that has not its 

>i>/6;rf., p. 323. '» Ibid., p. 322. 



archetype or its echo in the stretch of Greek literature that hes 
between Thales and Plotinus. • • •" ^" 

The scholar to whom we are most indebted for a truly co- 
herent picture of religious origins is Jane Harrison, whose 
Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Relij^ion sets forth with 
all detail the evolution of Olympian and Christian divinities 
from their humble, zoolatrous beginnings in tombs and snake- 
holes and chimney-comers. This evolution is a long story. It 
has been briefly retold by Professor Murray in the book from 
which the above quotation is taken, and here I can do no 
more than indicate its beginning, direction, and moral. 

Its bes^inning — contrary to our traditional ideas of the 
Greek mind — is not at all in bright fancies, lovely anthropo- 
morphic conceptions of the sun, the moon, and the rainbow. 
Professor Murray remarks this at the outset. 

"The things that have misled us modems in our efforts 
towards understanding the primitive stage in Greek religion," 
he says, "have been first the widespread and almost ineradi- 
cable error of treating Homer as primitive, and more gener- 
ally our unconscious insistence on starting with the notion of 
'Gods.' . . . The truth is that this notion of a god far away in 
the sky — I do not say merely a First Cause who is 'w'tho7it 
body parts or passions,* but almost any being that we should 
naturally call a "god' — is an idea not easy for primitive man to 
grasp. It is a subtle and rarefied idea, saturated with ages of 
philosophy and speculation." 

The Olympian gods, who seem like free inventions of an 
innocent, delighted imagination, "are imposed upon a back- 
ground strangely unlike themselves. For a lone time their 
luminous figures dazzled our eyes; we were not able to see the 
half-lit regions behind them, the dark primaeval tangle of 
desires and fears and dreams from which they drew their vi- 
tality. The surest test to apply in this question is the evidence 
of actual cult. Miss Harrison has here shown us the right 
method. . . ."2" 

Her findings by this method were, in brief, that in the great 
Greek festivals the Olympian gods played no role at all; their 
names were quite externally associated with these occasions, 
and were usually modified by an epithet, to make the connec- 
tion at least reasonable. Thus the Athenian Diasia is held in 
honor of "Zeus Meilichios," or "Zeus of Placation." 

"A god with an epithet," says Murray, "is always suspi- 

Five Stages of Greek Religion (Oxford, 1925)^ pp. 15-16, 

See esp. chaps, i and ii. "' rMd., p. 24. ">lbid., p. 28. 

cious, like a human being with an "alias.' Miss Harrison's ex- 
amination shows that in the rites Zeus has no place at all. 
Meilichios from the beginning has a fairly secure one. On 
some of the reliefs Meilichios appears not as a god. but as an 
enormous, bearded snake, a wel'-known representation of 
underworld powers or dead ancestors. . . . 

"The Di'asia was a ritual of olacation, that is, of casting 
away various elements of pollution or danger and anneasing 
the unknown wraths of the surrounding darkness, "^he near- 
est approach to a god contained in this festival is Meilichios. 
... His name means 'He of appeasement,' and he is nothing 

"The Thesmophoria formed the great festival of Demetei 
and her daughter Kore. though here again nemeter appears 
with a clinging epithet, Thesmophoros. We know pretty 
clearly the whole course of the ritual. . . . The Olympian De- 
meter and Persephone dwindle away as we look closer, and 
we are left with the shadow Thesmophoros. 'She who carries 
Thesmoi.' not a substantive personal goddess, but merely a 
personification of the ritual itself; an imaginary charm-bearer 
generated by so much charm-bearing, just as Me'lichios in the 
Dias'a was generated from the ritual of appeasement." 21 

The first entirely anthropomorphic conception seems to 
have come into Greece with the conquering Achaeans, whose 
Olympian Zeus, a mountain pod, -'2 had attained human form, 
at a time when the native Pelasgian gods still retained their 
animal shapes or were at best monstrous hvbrids" Athena still 
ident'fied with an owl, or figured as the Diver-B'rd or bird- 
headed "Diver-Maid" of Megara.^^ The effect of this personi- 
fied Achaean god on the barbarian worship then current in 
Aegean lands was probably spectacular; for a single hitrher 
concept'on can be a marvellous leaven in the heavy, amorphous 
mass of human thought. The local gods took shape in the new 
human pattern, so obvious once it had been conceived; and it 
is not surprising that this Achaean mountain-god, or rather 
mountain-dwelling sky-god, became either father or conqueror 
of those divinities who grew up in his image. 

"He had an extraordinary power of ousting or absorbing the 
various ob'ects of aboriginal worship which he found in his 
path." says Professor Murray. "The story of Meilichios f whose 
cult he usurped] is a common one." ' 

But even this great Olympian could not attain his perfect 

pp. 28-31. 

^ Ibid., p. 66. "It ['Olympus'} is a pre-Greek word applied to Mountains. 
H'rrism Pfn/f ti. '01. Murray, op. cU., p. 70. 



form, his definite relations to tlie heavens, the gods, and the 
human world, until he became a figure in something more 
than ritual; it is in the great realm of myth that human con- 
ceptions of divinity really become articulated. A symbol may 
give identity to a god, a mimetic dance may express his favors, 
but what really fixes his character is the tradition of his origin, 
actions, and past adventures. Like the hero of a novel or a 
drama, he becomes a personality, not by his sheer appearance, 
but by his story. Moloch, however widely worshiped, has 
never become an independent being apart from his rites, be- 
cause if he had any myth, it never became coherent in any 
systematic account. But Zeus and all his family had their 
genealogist in Homer, to mention only the greatest myth- 
maker we know. Herodotus was probably not far from the 
truth when he said that Homer gave the Greek gods their 
names and stations and even their shapes. Divinities are born 
of ritual, but theologies spring from myth. Miss Harrison, in 
describing the origin of a Kore or primitive earth-goddess, 
says: "The May-pole or harvest-sheaf is half-way to a harvest 
Maiden; it is thus . . . that a goddess is made. A song is sung, 
a story told, and the very telling fixes the outline of the per- 
sonality. It is possible to worship long in the spirit, but as 
soon as the story-telling and myth-making instinct awakes you 
have anthropomorphism and theology." 

The "myth-making instinct," however, has a history of its 
own, and its own life-symbols; though it is the counterpart 
of sacrament in the making of higher religion, it does not be- 
long to the lower phases; or, at least, it has little importance 
below the level of dawning, philosophic thought, which is the 
last reach of genuine religion, its consummation and also its 

7. Life-Symbols: The Koots of Myth 

WHILE RELIGION GROWS from the blind worship of Life and 
magic "aversion" of Death to a definite totem-cult or other 
sacramentalism, another sort of "life-symbol" develops in its 
own way, starting also in quite unintentional processes, and 
culminating in permanent significant forms. This medium is 
myth. Although we generally associate mythologj- with reli- 
gion, it really cannot be traced, like ritual, to an origin in 

^ Harrison, Prolegomena^ p. 64. 
Harrison, op. at., p. 80. 


anything like a "religious feeling," either of dread, mystic 
veneration, or even festal excitement. Ritual begins in motor 
attitudes, which, however personal, are at once externalized 
and so made public. Myth begins in fantasy, which may re- 
main tacit for a long time; for the primary form of fantasy is 
the entirely subjective and private phenomenon of dream. 

The lowest form of story is not much more than a dream- 
narrative. It has no regard whatever for coherence or even 
consistency of action, for possibility or common sense; in 
fact, the existence of such yarns as for instance the Papuans 
tell, in a society which is after all intelligent enough to gauge 
the physical properties of clubs and arrows, fire and water, and 
the ways of animals and men, shows that primitive story has 
some other than literal significance. It is made essentially of 
dream-material; the images in it are taken from life, they are 
things and creatures, but their behavior follows some entirely 
unempirical law; by realistic standards it is simply inappropri- 
ate to them. 

Roland Dixon, in his Oceanic Mythology,''^cites a story from 
Melanesia, in which two disputants, a buffalo and a crocodile, 
agree to ask "the next to come down the river" to arbitrate 
their quarrel; their request for a judgment is refused succes- 
sively by a leaf-plate, a rice-mortar, and a mat, before the 
Mouse-Deer finally acts as judge.^ There is another tale which 
begins: "One day an egg, a snake, a centipede, an ant, and a 
piece of dung set out on a head-hunting expedition. . . In 
yet another narrative, "while two women were sleeping in a 
house, a tapa-heater transformed itself into a woman resem- 
bling one of the pair, and waking the other, said to her, 
'Come, it is time for us to go fishing.' So the woman arose, 
and they took torches and went out to sea in a canoe. After a 
while she saw an island of driftwood, and as the dawn came 
on, perceived that her companion had turned into a ta/>a- 
beater. whereupon she said: "Oh, the tapa-beaterh&s deceived 
me. While we were talking in the evening it stood in the cor- 
ner and heard us, and in the night it came and deceived me.' 
Landing her on the island, the tapa-beater paddled away and 
abandoned her. . . ,'* After a miraculous rescue and return, 
"the woman told her parents how the tapa-hszte'c had de- 
ceived and kidnapped her; and her father was angry, and 
building a great fire, he threw the tapa-heater into it and 
burned it up." * 

'Vol. ix of The Mythology of All Races (Boston, 1916). 

'Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, p. 198. 'Ibid., p. 202. * /iiii., pp. 141-142. 



In these stories we have certainly a very low stage of human 
imagination; one cannot call them "myths," let alone "reli- 
gious myths." For the leaf-plate which refused to arbitrate a 
quarrel (it was peeved, by the way, because it had been thrown 
out when it was still perfectly good), the equally unobliging 
mortar and mat, the piece of dung that went headhunting, 
and the deceitful tapa-beater, ate not "persons" in a strange 
disguise; despite their humanoid activities they are just do- 
mestic articles. In fact, the ta/w-beater is in disguise when it 
resembles a woman, and when the rising sun breaks the spell 
it must return to its real form. But even as a ^d^^-beater it has 
no trouble in paddling the canoe home, and returning alone to 
the house. 

No sane human being, however simple, could really "sup- 
pose" such events to occur; and clearly, in enjoying this sort 
of story nobody is trying to "suppose" anything. To imagine 
the assorted hunting-party really on its way through the jungle 
is perhaps just as impossible for a Papuan as for us. The only 
explanation of such stories is, then, that nobody cares whether 
their dramatis personae act in character or not. The act is not 
really proper to its agent, but to someone its agent represents; 
and even the action in the story may merely represent the 
deeds of such a symbolized personality. In other words, the 
psychological basis of this remarkable form of nonsense lies in 
the fact that the story is a fabrication out of subjective sym- 
bols, not out of observed folkways and nature-ways. The 
psychoanalysts, who have found such unconscious metaphor to 
be the rationale of our otherwise inexplicable dreams, can 
give us ample illustration of this sort of fantasy. It is entirely 
bound to feelings and wishes of its author, cast in its bizarre 
or monstrous mold by his unavowed fears and reticences, for- 
mulated and told and retold as a means of self-expression. 
As we meet it in these Melanesian stories, it is really only a 
cut above genuine dream. But even so, the story is an improve- 
ment on mere dream, because the very telling of it requires a 
little more coherence than our nightmares usually have. There 
must be a thread of logic; a /rf/Jd-beater who is also a woman 
must, in one capacity or the other, be "in disguise"; the head- 
hunting dung, egg, and animals must set out together, and 
— though the head-hunt is forgotten before the end of the 
story — they must do something together or get separated. 
Characters have to be generally accounted for, which is more 
than we do in dreaming. 

So long as a story is told to a very uncritical audience by the 


person who made it up, it may be ever so silly without giving 
offense. Anyone who has heard young children telling yarns to 
each other can corroborate this. But as soon as the story goes 
abroad, it meets with more rigorous demands for significance. 
If it survives in a larger sphere, it undergoes various modifica- 
tions, in the interests of coherence and public appeal. Its purely 
personal symbols are replaced by more universal ones ; animals, 
ghosts, and witches take the place of tapa-heaters and such- 
like in the villain's role. Just as sacra change their form, and 
become gradually personified with the growth of ritual action, 
so the development and integration of story-action makes the 
symbols of fantasy take on more and more reasonable outward 
form to fit the role in which they are cast. A higher fictional 
mode emerges — the animal fable, the trickster story, or the 
orthodox ghost story." Often the theme is quite ephemeral — 
merely the homecoming of a strayed person, the theft of a co- 
coanut, or somebody's meeting with a cannibalistic ghoul in 
the bush — but such simple plots grow, with the advancing 
arts of life and social organization, into the well-known genre 
of fairytale. 

Here we have a literary product belonging to the civilized 
races of Europe just as much as to the savage cultures of darker 
continents. Aristocratic beings, chiefs or princes, now play the 
leading role; dragons and ogres and wicked kings, or beautiful 
witches of great power, replace the monkeys, crocodiles, angry 
dead men, or local cannibals of the older tradition. The wish- 
ful imagination of man has been disciplined, by public expo- 
sure and realistic reflection, into a genuine art-form, as far re- 
moved from personal dreaming as the ritual dance from self- 
expressive bouncing and shouting. 

Yet this high development of fantasy has brought us no- 
where in the direction of mythology. For although fairy-story 
is probably an older form than myth, the latter is not simply 
a higher development of the former. It, too, goes back to prim- 
itive fantasy, but the point of its origin from that source Ues 
far back in cultural history, long before the evolution of our 
modern fairytale — of Kunstmarchen, as the Germans say, or 
even Volksmarchen. It required not a higher stage of story- 
telling, but a thematic shift, to initiate what Miss Harrison 
called "the myth-making instinct." 

The difference between the two fictional modes— many 

« It must be borne in mind liere that tlie primitive animal fable has no conscious 
allegorical import, as Aesop's or La Fontaine's fables have, and that the ghost 
story has no naturalistic "explanation," because ghosts are accepted beings id the 
savage'?^ cosmos. 



scholars to the contrary notwithstanding" — is a crucial one. 
For the fairytale is irresponsible; it is franlily imaginary, and 
its purpose is to gratify wishes, "as a dream doth flatter." Its 
heroes and heroines, though of delightfully high station, 
wealth, beauty, etc., are simply individuals; "a certain prince," 
"a lovely princess." The end of the story is always satisfying, 
though by no means always moral ; the hero's heroism may be 
slyness or luck quite*as readily as integrity or valor. The theme 
is generally the triumph of an unfortunate one — an enchanted 
maiden, a youngest son, a poor Cinderella, an alleged fool — 
over his or her superiors, whether these be kings, bad fairies, 
strong animals (e.g. Red Riding Hood's wolf), stepmothers, 
or elder brothers. In short, the fairytale is a form of "wishful 
thinking," and the Freudian analysis of it fully explains why 
it is perennially attractive, yet never believed by adults even 
in the telling. 

Myth, on the other hand, whether literally IjeUeved or not, 
is taken with religious seriousness, either as historic fact or as 
a "mystic" truth. Its typical theme is tragic, not Utopian; and 
its personages tend to fuse into stable personalities of super- 
natural character. Two divinities of somewhat similar type — 
perhaps miraculously born, prodif'ious in strength, heroically 
defeated and slain — become identified ; they are one god under 
two names. Even those names may become mere epithets link- 
ing the god to different cults. 

This sets the hero of myth strikingly apart from the fairy- 
tale hero. No matter how closely the Prince Charming of 
Snow White's story resembles the gentleman who wakens 
Sleeping Beauty, the two characters do not become identified. 
No one thinks that the trickster "Little Glaus" is the little 
tailor who slew "seven at a stroke," or that the giant whom 
Jack killed was in any way related to the ofjre defeated by 
Puss in Boots, or that he figured elsewhere as Bluebeard. Fairy 
stories bear no relation to each other. Myths, on the other 
hand, become more and more closely woven into one fabric, 
they form cycles, their dramatis personae tend to be intimately 
connected if not identified. Their stage is the actual world — 
the Vale of Tempe, Mount Olympus, the sea, or the sky — and 
not some ungeographical fairyland. 

Such radical dissimilarities between two kinds of story 
lead one to suspect that they have fundamentally different 

* See esp. P. Ehrenreich. Die allgemeine Mythologie und ihre etknotogischen 
Grundtagen CLe'ipzig. 1910); E. Mudrak, "Die deutsche Heldensage,'* Jahrbtick jjir 
historhche Volkskunde, Vll (1939); and Otto Rank, Psychoanalytische Beitrage 
sur MythenjorscAung (Leipzig, Vienna and Zurich, 1922). 


functions. And myth has, indeed, a more difficult and more 
serious purpose than fairytale. The elements of both are much 
alike, but they are put to quite different uses. Fairytale is a 
personal gratification, the expression of desires and of their 
imaginary fulfilment, a compensation for the shortcomings of 
real life, an escape from actual frustration and conflict. Be- 
cause its function is subjective, the hero is strictly individual 
and human; for, although he may have magic powers, he is 
never regarded as divine; though he may be an oddity like 
Tom Thumb, he is not considered supernatural. For the same 
reason — namely that his mission is merely to represent the 
"self in a day-dream — he is not a savior or helper of man- 
kind. If he is good, his goodness is a personal asset, for which 
he is richly rewarded. But his humanitarian role is not the 
point of the story; it is at best the setting for his complete so- 
cial triumph. The beneficiary of his clever acts, his prowess, or 
his virtue is he himself, not mankind forever after. And be- 
cause an individual history is what the fairytale fancies, its 
interest is exhausted with the "happy ending" of each finished 
story. There is no more mutual reference between the adven- 
tures of Cinderella and those of Rapunzel than between two 
separate dreams. 

Myth, on the other hand, at least at its best, is a recognition 
of natural conflicts, of human desire frustrated by non-human 
powers, hostile oppression, or contrary desires; it is a story 
of the birth, passion, and defeat by death which is man's com- 
mon fate. Its ultimate end is not wishful distortion of the 
world, but serious envisagement of its fundamental truths; 
moral orientation, not escape. That is why it does not exhaust 
its whole function in the telling, and why separate myths 
cannot be left entirely unrelated to any others. Because it pre- 
sents, however metaphorically, a world-picture, an insight into 
life generally, not a personal imaginary biography, myth tends 
to become systematized; figures with the same poetic meaning 
are blended into one, and characters of quite separate origin 
enter into definite relations with each other. Moreover, because 
the mythical hero is not the subject of an egocentric day-dream, 
but a subject greater than any individual, he is always felt to 
be superhuman, even if not quite divine. He is at least a de- 
scendant of the gods, something more than a man. His sphere 
of activity is the real world, because what he symbolizes belongs 
to the real world, no matter how fantastic its expression may 
be (this is exactly contrary to the fairytale technique, which 
transports a natural individual to a fairyland outside reality) . 



The material of myth is, indeed, just the familiar symbolism 
of dream — image and fantasy. No wonder psycholo,!?ists have 
discovered that it is the same material as that of fairytale; that 
both have symbols for father and son, maiden and wife and 
mother, possession and passion, birth and death.''' The differ- 
ence is in the two respective uses of that material ; the one, 
primarily for supplying vicarious experience, the other essen- 
tially for understanding actual experience.'' Both interests may 
be served in one and the same fiction; their complete separa- 
tion belongs only to classic cases. Semi-mythical motives occur 
in sheer day-dream and even night-dream, and an element of 
compensation-fantasy may pers'st in the most universalized, 
perfected myths. That is inevitable, because the latter tv'pe has 
grown at some point out of the former, as all realistic thinking 
sprinps from self-centered fancy. There is no clean dividing 
line. Yet the two are as distinct as summer and winter, night 
and day, or any other extremes that have no exact zero-point 
between them. 

We do not know just where, in the evolution of human 

thought, myth-making begins, but it begins somewhere with 
the recognition of realistic significance in a story. In every fan- 
tasy, no matter how Utopian, there are elements that repre- 
sent real human relations, real needs and fears, the quandaries 
and conflicts which the "happy ending" resolves. Even if the 
real situation is symbolized rather than stated (a shocking 
cond'tion may well be disguised, or a mysterious one strangely 
conceived), a certain importance, an emotional interest, at- 
taches to those elements. The ogre, the dragon, the witch, are 
intriguing figures in fairy-lore. Unlike the hero, they are usu- 
ally ancient beings, that have troubled the land for many gen- 
erations. They have their castles or caves or hermitages, their 
ma^ric cook-pots and sorcerer's wands; they have evil deeds 
laid up against them, and extremely bad habits, usually of a 
cannibalistic turn. Their records are merely suggested in the 
story, which hastens to get on with the fortunes of the hero; 
but the suggestion is enough to activate a mind which is, after 

' Cf. PisjmuiKi Freud. Collected Papers, vol. IV. (London, 1925). Essay ix 
(pp. 173-183). "The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming"; also Otto Rank, 
np. cii. esp. essays vi (pp. 119-145), "Das Briidermarchen," and vii (pp. 146-184), 
"M' thus unrt Marchen." 

* This distinction was made fairly long aso by E. Bethe, in his monograph, 
Mytlitir — Sage — A/ arc/rf re (Leipzig. 1905), in which he wri'es: "Myth, legend, and 
fairy'ale differ from one another in origin and purpose. Myth is primitive phil- 
osophy, tile simplest presentatl'^nal (anschauticke) form of thought, a series of 
attempts to understand the world, to explain life and death, fate and nature, g'^ds 
and cults. Legend is pri-^itive history, n-^ively formulated in terms of love and 
hate, unconsciously transformed and simplified. But fairytale has sprung from, and 
3er\'e5, no motive but entertainment." Cf. also .\. Thimme, Das Marchen (Leipzig, 


all, committed to some interests besides dream-spinning. Be- 
cause they represent the realistic setting from which the dream 
starts its fanciful escape, they command a serious sort of con- 

It is significant that people who refuse to tell their children 
fairytales do not fear that the children will believe in princes 
and princesses, but that they will believe in witches and bogeys. 
Prince or princess, to whom the wish-fulfilment happens, we 
find in ourselves, and need not seek in the outer world; their 
reference is subjective, their history is our dream, and we 
know well enough that it is "make-believe." But the incidental 
figures are material for superstition, because their meanings 
are in the real world. They represent those same powers that 
are conceived, first perhaps through "dreadful" objects like 
corpses or skulls or hideous idols, as ghosts, keres, hoodoos, 
and similar spooks. The ogres of literature and the ghouls of 
popular conception embody the same mysterious Powers ; there- 
fore the fairytale, which even most children will not credit as 
a narrative, may carry with it a whole cargo of ideas, purely 
secondary to its own purpose, that are most convincing ele- 
ments for superstition. The awful ancestor in the grave goes 
abroad as the goblin of story: that is the god of superstition. 
The world-picture of spook-religion is a reflection of fairytale, 
a dream whose nightmare elements become attached to visible 
cult obiects and thus taken seriously. 

There is nothing cosmological about the being such a symbol 
can embody. Deities in the classical sense cannot be born of 
tales whose significance is personal, because the setting of such 
tales is necessarily a genre picture, a local, temporal, human 
environment, no matter how distorted and disguised. The 
forces that play into an individual's dream are social forces, 
not world-powers. So long as the hero is the self, the meta- 
phorical dragons he slays are his elders, his rivals, or his per- 
sonal enemies; their projection into the real world as sacred 
beings can yield only ancestors, cave-monsters, manitos, and 
capricious demigods. 

It is noteworthy that when these secondary characters of day- 
dream or story are incorporated into our picture of the external 
world as ob'ects of superstition, they represent a generalized, 
heightened conception of the social forces in question: not a 
man's father, but his fathers, the paternal power in all genera- 
tions, may be seen in the fabulous animal- ancestor he reveres; 
not his brother, but a "Great Brother," in the manito-bear 
that is his familiar of the forest. The process of symbolization. 



while it often obscures the origin of our ideas, enhances their 
conceptual form. The demon, therefore, presents to us not a 
specific person, but the human estate of such a person, by vir- 
tue of which we are oppressed, challenged, tempted, or trium- 
phant. Though he is born of a purely self-centered imagina- 
tion, he is super-personal; a product not only of particular 
experience, but of social hisi^ht. He is the envisagement of a 
vital factor in life; that is why he is projected into reality by 
the symbolism of religion. 

The great step from fairytale to myth is taken when not only 
social forces — persons, customs, laws, traditions — but also cos- 
mic forces surrounding mankind, are expressed in the story; 
when not only relationships of an individual to society, but of 
mankind to nature, are conceived through the spontaneous 
metaphor of poetic fantasy. 

Perhaps this transition from subjectively oriented stories, 
separate and self-contained, to the organized and permanent 
envisagement of a world-drama could never be made if crea- 
tive thought were not helped by the presence of permanent, 
obvious symbols, supplied by nature: the heavenly bodies, the 
changes of day and night, the seasons, and the tides. Just as 
the social framework of personal life, first conceived in dream- 
like, inchoate forms, is gradually given enduring recognition 
through religious symbols, so the cosmic setting of man's ex- 
istence is imponderable, or at best a mere nightmare, until the 
sun and the moon, the procession of stars, the winds and wa- 
ters of earth, exhibit a divine rule, and define the realm of 
human activity. When these gods arrive, whose names connote 
heavenly powers and natural processes, the deities of local 
caves and groves become mere vassals and lesser lights. 

It has often been asked, not without justification, how men 
of sane observant minds — however unschooled or innocent — 
can be led to identify sun, moon, or stars with the anthropo- 
morphic agents of sacred story. Yet the interpretation of gods 
and heroes as nature-symbols is very ancient; it has been vari- 
ously accepted and rejected, disputed, exploded, and reestab- 
lished, by Hellenic philosophers, medieval scholars, modern 
philologists, archeologists, and theologians, over a period of 
twenty-five hundred years. Mystifying as it is to psychology, it 
challenges us as a fact. Demeter was certainly an earth-god- 
dess, and the identity of Olympian Zeus with the heavens, 
Apollo with the sun, Artemis with the moon, etc., is so au- 
thentic that it has long been considered a truism to declare 
these gods "personifications" of the corresponding natural 


phenomena. Yet such a process of personification seems like 
an unnatural flight of fancy. It is a f-iirly safe rule not to im- 
pute to the savage mind processes that never even threaten to 
arise in our own minds. The difference between savage and 
civilized mentality is, after all, one of naive versus critical 
thinking; bizarre and monstrous ima.<rery pops into our heads, 
too, but is rejected almost instantly by the disc'n'ined reason. 
But I do not think that either in dream or in childhood we are 
prone to th'nk of the sun as a man. As for the stars, it takes a 
sophisticated literary tradition to make them people, or even 
Lady Moon's sheep. 

How then did heroic adventures become attached to these 
most impersonal actors, as they almost univers-I'y did? The 
process, I believe, is a natural phase of the evolution of myth- 
ology from fairy-story, and indeed represents a potent factor in 
that development. The change is a gradual one, and has neces- 
sarily its intermediate steps; one of these is marked by the 
introduction of the first cosmic symbols. This transitional stage 
between the egocentric interest of folktale, foaissed on a 
human hero, and the emergence of full-fledged nature-mythol- 
ogy dealing with divine characters of highly general import, 
is the so-called legend, which produces the "culture-hero." 

This widely represented fictional character is a hybrid of 
subjective and obiective thinking: he is derived from the hero 
of folktale, representing an individual psyche, and conse- 
quently retains many of that personage's traits. But the sym- 
bolic character of the other beings in the fairytale has in- 
fected him. too, with a certain supernatural ism; he is more 
than an individual wrestling with powers of society. Just 
what else he is, must be gathered from his personalitv'^ as it 
reveals itself in the legendary mode. 

He is half god, half giant-killer. Like the latter, he is often 
a Youngest Son, the only clever one among his stupid broth- 
ers. He is born of high parentage, but kidnapped, or exposed 
and rescued, or magically enslaved, in his infancy. Unlike the 
dream-subiect of fairytale, however, his deeds only begin wth 
his escape from thraldom; they go on to benefit mankind. He 
gives men fire, territory, game, teaches them agriculture, ship- 
building, perhaps even language; he "makes" the land, finds 
the sun (in a cave, in an egg, or in a foreign country) , and 
sets it in the sky, and controls wind and rain. But despite his 
greatness he slips back frequently into his role of folktale 
hero, and plays the trickster, outwitting human enemies, local 
ghosts, or even a venerable ancestor just for mischief. 



The status of the culture-hero is thus very complex. His 
activities lie in the real world, and their effects are felt by real 
men forever after; he therefore has a somewhat vague, yet un- 
mistakable historical relation to living men, and a tie to the 
locality on which he has left his mark. This alone would suf- 
fice to distinguish him from the hero of fairyland, whose acts 
are bound up entirely with a story, so that he can be dispensed 
with at the end of it, and a new hero introduced for the next 
story. The historical and local attachments of the culture-hero 
give his being a certain permanence. Stories gather round him, 
as they gather round real heroes of history whose deeds have 
become legendary, such as Charlemagne, Arthur, or Kubla 
Khan. But whereas these princes are credited with enhanced 
and exaggerated human acts, the primitive culture-hero inter- 
feres with the doings of nature rather than of men ; his op- 
ponents are not Saracens or barbarians, but sun and moon, 
earth and heaven. 

A perfect example of such a demigod is the Indian Mana- 
bozho or Michabo, also known as Hiawatha,* He is at once a 
supernatural being, and a very human character. The fact that 
he is a manito who can take whole mountain ranges at a couple 
of strides, that he chastises his father the West Wind for the 
indignities inflicted on his moon-descended mother, does not 
put him above feeling the pinch of hunger in winter, or get- 
ting stung in robbing a bee-tree. 

Brinton, one of the earliest systematic collectors of Indian 
folk-lore, looking for "natural theology" in the Red Man, was 
baffled and distressed by the character of Manabozho ; for "He 
is full of pranks and wiles, but often at a loss for a meal of 
victuals; ever itching to try his arts magic on great beasts and 
often meeting ludicrous failure therein; envious of the powers 
of others, and constantly striving to outdo them in what they 
do best; in short, little more than a malicious buffoon delight- 
ing in practical jokes, and abusing his superhuman powers for 
selfish and ignoble ends." At the same time, "From a grain of 
sand brought from the bottom of the primaeval ocean he fash- 
ioned the habitable land and set it floating on the waters. . . . 
One of his footsteps measured eight leagues, the Great Lakes 
were the beaver dams he built, and when the cataracts impeded 
his progress he tore them away with his hands. "i** He invented 
picture writing and made the first fishing-nets. Obviously he is 

* The first primed source of the Hiawallia legend seems lo be J. V. ClarJc's 
Histoi-y of Onondaga (Syracuse, 1S49), from wiricli Longfellow drew the materials 
for his version, ff. R. Schoolcraft's The Mytk of Hiawatha (Philadelphia and 
London, 18S6) is fuller and more coherent, but less authentic. 

'"D. Brinton, The Myths of the New World (Philadelphia, 1896), pp. 194-195. 


a deity; yet his name, in every dialect that varies or translates 
it, means "Great Hare" or "Spirit Hare." Brinton was con- 
vinced that the popular stories about him are "a low, modern, 
and corrupt version," and that his name rests on a philological 
mistake which all the Indians made, confusing wahn, "hare," 
with ivapd, "the dawn"; that his various names originally des- 
ignated a sun-god, but led to his representation as a hare, by 
an accident of language." 

Manabozho is in all likelihood not a degraded Supreme 
God, but an enhanced, exalted fictional hero. He still bears the 
marks of his human origin, though he has established relations 
to the great forces which encompass human life, the heavens, 
the seasons, and the winds. His superhuman deeds have raised 
him to a comradeship with these powers; and his pseudo-his- 
toric relation to mankind leads to his identification with the 
totem-animal, the mystic ancestor of his people. Therefore he 
is at once the son of the West Wind, grandson of the Moon, 
etc., and the Great Hare; and at the same time the clever 
trickster, the great chief, the canoe-builder, and the superman. 

We meet the culture-hero again, in all his glory, as Maui, 
the Polynesian demigod. He, too, combines the buffoon, 
trickster, or naughty boy with heroic, and even divine quali- 
ties. Like Manabozho, he is of cosmological descent, though 
his normal shape is human. Maui is too widely claimed to bear 
the marks of any totem, but can change himself into fish, bird, 
or beast at will. He is, indeed, everything from a troll to a 
deity, because he belongs to all stages of culture — he is known 
as a prankster in Papuan fairytale, the fire-stealer and dragon- 
killer ("hero" in a classical sense) in more advanced legends, 
the demiurge who shapes earth and sky in Hawaiian cosmol- 
ogy, and in the mythology of New Zealand he actually be- 
comes a benevolent patron of humanity, self -sacrificed in an 
attempt to bestow immortality on men. 

Yet Maui, like Manabozho, is not worshiped. He has no 

Ibid., p. 194 ff. On Brinton's theory, one might sufipose that the Sacred Cod 
of Massachusetts, enshrined in tlie State House, and soinetimes pictured, totem-like, 
on Massachusetts number-plates, had oritdnated tlirough a little confusion in the 
Puritan mind between "Cod" and "God." The Indian is no more likely than the 
white man to mistake even exact homonyms for each other where their meanings 
are so diverse that their interchange is patently absurd. The same objection holds 
against every attempt to rest mytnology on verbal errors or garbledf versions of 
fact, as Max Miilier and Herbert Spencer proposed to do. We do not learn religious 
thinking, on the one hand, nor on the other turn gospel into bed-time stories, just 
by mistake — by reading "son" for "sun," or confusinfc Simon called Peter with 
Peter Rabbit: and presumably right-minded Indians don't, either. 

12 See Roland Dixon. Oceanic Mythology ; E. Shortland, Maori Religion and 
A/j'iAo/ogy (London, 1882); J. C. AnSersen, Maori Life in Ao-tea (Melbourne and 
London, no date; c. 1907) ; W. D. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, a Demigod »! 
Polynesia, and of his Mother Hina (Honolulu, 1910). 



cult, his name is not sacred, nor do men feel or fear his power 
as a factor in current events. He has died, or ijone west, or 
otherwise ended his local career; one may see his footprints 
in the lava, his handiwork in the arrangements of heaven and 
earth, but he no longer presides over these. His old adversary 
the Sun st'll runs the course Maui bade him follow ; his an- 
cestress and murderess, the Moon, st'Il vaunts her immortality 
in one resurrection after another. These are visible powers, 
deities to be entreated or honored. Why is their son, grandson, 
conqueror, or playmate, the culture-hero, not an eternal god, 
set as a star in the sky, or imagined as a king of the sea ? 

Because he is not as seriously "believed in" as gods and 
sprr'ts are. Like the hero of fairytale, the culture-hero is a 
vehicle of human wishes. His adventures are fantasies. But, 
whereas the story-hero is an individual overcoming personal 
opponents — father, master, brothers, or rivals — the culture- 
hero is Man, overcoming the superior forces that threaten 
him. A tribe, not a single inventor, is unconsciously identified 
with him. The setting of his drama is cosmic: storm and night 
are his foes, deluge and death his ordeals. These are the reali- 
ties that inspire his dream of deliverance. His task is the con- 
trol of nature — of earth and sky, vegetation, rivers, season — 
and the conquest of death. 

Just as the fairytale served to clarify a personal environ- 
ment and human relations in its secondary characters, its 
kings, witches, ghosts, and fairies (which were often identi- 
fied with real beings and so abstracted from the mere tale) , so 
the culture-hero's story furnishes symbols of a less personal 
encircling reality. The hero's exploits are larpelv make-believe 
even to their inventors; but the forces that challenge him are 
apt to be taken seriously. They belong to the real world, and 
their symbols mean something beyond the pipe dream in 
which they were formulated. Maui is a superman, a wishful 
version of human power, skill, and importance: but his place 
among the forces of nature is Man's own place. Where did 
he come from.-* From nature, from heaven and earth and sea. 
In cosmic terms, he came "out of the Night." In human terms 
he came out of Woman. In his mvth, therefore, he is descend- 
ed from Hine-nui-te-po, Great Woman of Night. 

The Polynesian word "Hine" (variants "Hina," "Ina") has 
an interesting etymology. By itself, it seems to be always 
either a proper noun or an adjective connoting either light 

"See Dixon, op. cit., p. 52; Shortland, op. cit, p. 23; Westervelt, op. cit, 
p. 133; for complete genealogy see Andersen, op. cit., p. 182, 

(e.g. white, pale, glimmering) or falling, declining; in com- 
posite words it usually refers to woman. As a name, it de- 
notes the woman or maiden of such-and-such character, some- 
what like the Greek Kore. The mixture of common and proper 
meaning gives the word a generalizing function; therefore it 
applies with special aptness to supernatural beings which, as 
we have seen, are generalized personalities. But when several 
personages bear the same name because they have essentially 
the same symbolic value, they naturally tend to merge. Since 
every "Great Woman," "Mountain Maid," "Mother," or 
"She" is Woman, we find a great confusion of Hinas. 

In Polynesian mythologies the various Hina characters are 
developed mainly as secondary figures in the story of Maui. 
They appear as his mother, sister, grandmother, or very first 
ancestress. As few English readers are familiar with the leg- 
end, I will sketch briefly the most important tales of this 
powerful, mischievous, and brilliant hero. 


Maui was the youngest of four or five brothers, all named 
Maui with various epithets. The Mauis were all stupid except 
this youngest son, who was miraculous from his infancy. He 
had been prematurely born, and his mother Hina, not inter- 
ested in such a weakling, threw him into the sea. But a jelly- 
fish nursed him, and the elements returned him to his home, 
where consequently he was received as a foundling. He was 
full of power and mischief, always in trouble with his brothers 
and his elders. 

Maui's mother slept in a hut with her children, like any 
Polynesian mother. But when the first dawn light appeared 
she would depart, and keep herself in some mysterious retreat 
all day. Young Maui, determined to find her out, blocked all 
the chinks and window-holes of the hut, so that no ray of 
light wakened her until it was full day; then, when she woke 
and hastily fled, he followed her, and discovered the path she 
took to the Underworld, where she was wont to spend the 
day with her dead ancestors. Maui, in the form of a bird, 
joined this company of chthonic gods, who gave him his first 

1* The oeneral word for "woman" is "-wahine," See H. R. Hitchcock. English- 
Hawaiian Dictionary (San Francisco, 1887); E. Treeear, The Maori-Polynesian 
Comparative Dictionary (Wellington, N. Z., 1891); L. Andrews, Dictionary oj 
the Hawaiian Language (1865). , . 

"Shortland (op- at., chap, ii) gives the following translations: 
Hine-ahu-one — the Earth-formed Maid (first created woman). 
Hine-a-tauira — the Pattern Maid (first begotten woman), 
Hine-tu-a-maunga — the Mountain Maid, 
Hine-nui-te-po — Great Woman of Night, 



taste of cooked food. Here he found the ancestress in whose 
cu';todv was the precious secret of fire. 

There are many versions of his Promethean exploit. In one 
of these, the ancestress gives him one of her finders, in which 
the princiole of fire dwells: sometimes he wrests it from her, 
and sometimes he learns the secret of fire-making from the Alae, 
"the b'rd of Hina," a mud-hen sacred to that ancestral fire- 
woman. But in every case, an ancient Hina, living in a vol- 
cano, in a cave, or simply in the earth, possesses the treasure, 
and Maui obtains it by trickery, cajoling, or violence. 


This story, current in New Zealand, tells how Maui was 
sent to take food to one of his aged progenitors: "b'^t when 
he came to his ancestress he found her very ill. one half of her 
body being already dead, whereupon he wrenched off her 
lower jaw, made from it a fish-hook, which he concealed about 
him, and then returned to his borne." With this hook he 
went fishing, and drew up a huge fish, which proved to be the 
dry land. Had his foolish brothers who were in the canoe with 
him not cut up the fish, there would have been a continent; 
as it was, the land fell apart into several islands. 


"The Wailuku river, which flows through the town of Hilo. 
has its own peculiar and weird beauty. For nni'es it is a series 
of waterfalls and rapids. ... By the side of this river H'na's 
son Maui had his lands. In the very bed of the river, in a 
cave under one of the largest falls, Hina made her home. . . . 
By the side of this river, the legends say, she pounded her tapa 
and prepared her food. . . . The aUvs were verv short and 
there was no time for rest while making tapa-cloth. . . . Al- 
though Hina was a goddess and had a family possessing 
miraculous power, it never entered the mind of the Hawaiian 
legend tellers to endow her with ease in producing wonderful 
results. . . . 

"The Hina of Hilo was grieved as she toiled because after 
she had pounded the sheets out so th"n that they were ready 
to be dried, she found it almost impossible to secure the neces- 
sary aid of the sun in the drying process. . . . The sun always 
hurried so fast that the sheets could not dry. . . . H'na found 
her incantations had no influence with the sun. She could not 

Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, p. 43 ff. 

An excerpt from Wesfervelt, Legends of Maui, pp. 140-145. 


prevail upon him to go slower and give her more time for the 
comp'et'on of her task. Then she called on her powerful son, 
Maui-ki-i-ki-i, for aid. 

"• . . . He took ropes made from the fibre of trees and vines 
[in another version, his sister Ina-Ika's hair"! ^* and lassoed 
the sun while it climbed the side of the mountain and entered 
the great crater which hollows out the summit. The sun came 
throueh a lar^e gap in the eastern side of the crater, rushing 
along as rapidly as possible. Then Maui threw his lassoes one 
after the other over the sun's legs (the rays of light), holding 
him fast and breaking off some of them. With a magic club 
Maui struck the face of the sun again and again. At last, 
wounded and weary, and also limping on its broken legs, the 
sun promised Maui to go slower forevermore." 


This story belongs to New Zealand, and has a tragic, ethi- 
cal ring that really suggests a more epic phase of mythology 
than the Oceanic. For here the mischievous, wily hero appears 
in a serious mood, contemplating the unhappy fate of man- 
kind, whereby every man must sooner or later go through the 
gate of death, and never return. Maui, in the pride of his 
magic power, tries to undo this fate, to find life beyond death 
and bring it to men on earth. 

Maui, after his many successful exploits, came home to his 
parents in high spirits. His father, though duly admiring the 
hero's feats, warned him that there was one who might yet 
overcome him. 

When Maui asked incredulously by whom he could be 
overcome, "His father answered him, 'By your great ancestress, 
by Hine-nui-te-po, who, if you look, you may see flashing, 
and as it were, opening and shutting there, where the horizon 
meets the sky. . . . What you see yonder shining so brightly 
are her eyes, and her teeth are as sharp and hard as volcanic 
glass; her body is like that of man, and as for the pupils of 
her eyes, they are jasper; and her hair is like the tangles of 
long seaweed, and her mouth is like that of a barracouta.' " 

Maui, despite all warnings, set forth to find the dreadful 
ancestress Hina, and to creep through her gaping mouth into 
her belly, where Eternal Life was hidden in her womb. He 
took his friends the little birds with him — presumably for 

«/A«i., D. 54, Ina-Ika is another "Hina " for "Ina". =. "H™-" . 

" From Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional atstory 
of the fiev Zealand Race, as Furnished by their Priests and Chiefs, quoted by 
Dixon, op. cU., p. 52. 


moral support, since they certainly offered no other aid — on his 
way down the shining path to the horizon; and he adjured 
them to make no noise that might wake the monster before 
he was safely out of her mouth again. Then he crept into her, 
past her obsidian teeth that were the gates of death. He found 
the treasure of Eternal Life, and started to make his escape. 
But just as he was between the sharp gates once more, one of 
the silly small birds could no longer contain itself at the sight 
of his undignified exit, and burst into loud, chirping laughter. 
Hine-nui-te-po awoke, and Maui was bitten in two. So his great 
ancestress conquered him, as she conquers all men — for 
through her jaws they must all go in the end. 

Maui is the same person in various poses throughout these 
stories; but it is certainly bewildering to find so many strange 
females bearing the name of Hina, and claiming to be Maui's 
mother, grandmother, first begotten ancestress, first divine 
ancestress, sister, or other relative. Between his mother who 
lived in a hut, and threw him away for a useless weakling — a 
very true Polynesian lady, we may assume — and the terrible 
giantess Hine-nui-te-po, there seems to be little likeness. Why 
do all these mythical women merge their weird personalities 
in one name? 

The mystery lightens when we consider that Hina also 
means the moon?-'^ In the various Hinas of Polynesian myth 
we have just so many stages of "personification" of the moon, 
from the luminous, hollow woman on the horizon at the end 
of the shining path, to the mother who spends the nights with 
her children but goes down beneath the earth by day. The 
ancestress who is alive on one side and dead on the other, who 
appears to be the same Hina that owned the fire-secret, is 
clearly a lunar deity ;2i the Hina of Hilo, emerging from a 
cave to spread her tapa-cloth, seems to be a transitional figure. 

If the gods of mythology really arose by a process of "per- 
sonification," then Maui's mother who threw him away and 
later re-adopted him must be regarded as the end-result of a 
process beginning with a mere animistic conception of the 
moon. But in view of the fairytale character of all primitive 
story, the complete lack of cosmic interest in the truly savage 
mind, and the clear nature- symbolism in the higher mytholo- 
gies, I believe the process of development to be exactly the 

Cf. Westervelt, op. cit, p. 165; also Martha Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology 
(1940), v.llQa. y 
" Cf. Dixon, op. cit., p. 43; Westervelt, op. cit., p. 23. 

contrary: Hina is not a symbol of the moon, but the moon is a 
symbol of Hina, Woman. 

The moon, by reason of its spectacular changes, is a very 
expressive, adaptable, and striking symbol — far more so than 
the sun. with its simple career and unvarying form. A little 
contemplation shows quite clearly why the moon is so apt a 
feminine symbol, and why its meanings are so diverse that it 
may present many women at once — Hina in many, often in- 
compatible forms, mother and maid and crone, young and 
old. The human mind has an uncanny power of recognizing 
symbolic forms; and most readily, of course, will it seize upon 
those which are presented again and again without aberra- 
tion. The eternal regularities of nature, the heavenly motions, 
the alternation of night and day on earth, the tides of the 
ocean, are the most insistent repetitious forms outside our own 
behavior-patterns (the symbolic value of which was discussed 
in the previous chapter) . They are the most obvious meta- 
phors to convey the dawning concepts of life-functions — ^birth, 
growth, decadence, and death. 

Woman is, to primitive reflection, one of the basic mysteries 
of nature. In her, life originates; only the more enlightened 
societies know that sexual union initiates it. To naive obser- 
vation, her body simply waxes and wanes with it for a certain 
length of years. She is the Grreat Mother, the sjmbol as well 
as the instrument of life. 

But the actual process of human conception and gestation 
is too slow to exhibit a pattern for easy apprehension. One 
needs a symbol, to think coherently about it. Long before dis- 
cursive thought could frame propositions to this purpose, 
men's minds probably recognized that natural sjmbol of 
womanhood, the waxing and waning moon. 

It is a characteristic of presentational symbolism that many 
concepts may be telescoped into one total expression, without 
being severally presented by its constituent parts. The psycho- 
analysts, who discovered this trait in dream-symbolism, call it 
"condensation." The moon is a typical "condensed" symbol. 
It expresses the whole mystery of womankind, not only in its 
phases, but in its inferiority to the sun, its apparent nearness 
to the clouds that veil it like garments; perhaps the element 
of mystery that moonlight invariably creates, and the compli- 
cated time-cycle of its complete withdrawal (women, in tribal 
society, have elaborate schedules of taboo and ritual, of which 
a man cannot keep track), are not to be underestimated as 
symbolical factors. 


But just as life grows to completeness with every waxing 
phase, so in the waning period one can see the old moon take 
possession, gradually, of the brilliant parts; life is swallowed 
by death in a graphic process, and the swallowing monster 
was ancestor to the life that dies. The significance of the moon 
is irresistible. Ages of repetition hold the picture of life and 
death before our eyes. No wonder if men learn to contemplate 
it, to form their notions of an individual life on the model of 
that cycle, and conceive death as a work of ghostly forbears, 
the same who gave life — Hina the ancestress is image of them 
all; nor that notions of resurrection or reincarnation should 
arise from such contemplation. 

All this may explain why the name Hina should be be- 
stowed on the moon, and why that luminary should be deified. 
But since savage ideation does not require human form to em- 
body a power, why should this Hina be personified ? 

It is a generally accepted doctrine, almost a truism, that a 
savage thinks everything that acts on him must be a person 
like himself, and attributes human forms, needs, and motives 
to inanimate objects because he cannot explain their activities 
in any other way. Again and again we read how primitive men, 
the makers of mythology, believed the sun, moon, and stars to 
be people like themselves, with houses and families, because 
the untutored mind could not distinguish between heavenly 
bodies and human bodies, or between their respective habits. 
Almost any book on primitive myth that one picks up repeats 
this credo, expounded long ago in the classic work of Tyler: 

"To the lower tribes of man, sun and stars, trees and rivers, 
winds and clouds, become personal animate creatures, leading 
lives conformed to human or animal analogies, and perform- 
ing their special functions with the aid of limbs like beasts or 
of artificial instruments like men." 22 Or, in the words of An- 
drew Lang: 

"The savage draws no hard and fast line between himself 
and the things in the world. ... He assigns human speech and 
feelings to sun and moon and stars and wind, no less than to 
beasts, b'rds and fishes. "^^ 

Now, there is no doubt that Maui was said to have cut off 
the sun's legs,-* and that the god Tane saw daylight under 
the armpit of his father Rangi, the sky ; 25 these natural ele- 
ments were certainly anthropomorphized in their full-fledged 

" Ty]or, Primitive Culture, I. 285. 

""Lang. Myth, Ritual and Relieion, I, 47 (London, 1887) (11 volumes). 
^'Cf. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, p. 46. 

Shortland, Maori Religion and Mythology, p. 20. 


myths. What I do not beUeve, however, is that savages orig- 
inally and spontaneously see the sun as a man, the moon as a 
woman, etc., else cosmological fantasy would be found much 
lower in the scale of human mentality than it is; nor do I 
think that nature-myths are originally attempts to explain 
astronomical or meteorological events. Nature-myths are orig- 
inally stories of a superman hero, Maui, Hiawatha, Balder, or 
Prometheus, who is a superman because he is felt to be more 
than a man — he is Mankind in a single human figure. He bat- 
tles with the forces of nature, the very same forces that made 
him and still sustain him. His relation to them is both filial 
and social; and // is his incarnation that leads his elemental 
ancestors, brethren, and opponents to be personified. In his 
story, he has a mother who is human enough; but, as he is 
Man, so she is Woman. Now the symbol of womanhood is 
the moon; and as a myth-making mentality does not keep 
symbol and meaning apart, the moon not only represents, but 
presents, Woman, the mother of Maui. Not personification of 
the moon, but a lunarization of Hina, gives rise to Polynesian 

Here we have the genesis of myth from legend. The savage 
does not, in his innocence, "think" the moon is a woman be- 
cause he cannot tell the difference; he "thinks" it is a round 
fire, a shining disk; but he sees Woman in it, and names it 
Woman, and all its acts and relationships that interest him 
are those which carry out that significance. The connection 
of the culture-hero with the moon helps to humanize and de- 
fine the functions of that deity, because the culture-hero is un- 
equivocally human; so the lunar changes of light and form 
and place, nameless and difficult as mere empirical facts, ac- 
quire importance and obviousness from their analogy to hu- 
man relations and functions: conceiving, bearing, loving, and 
hating, devouring and being devoured. The moon lends itself 
particularly to such interpretations, because it can present so 
many phases of womanhood. A host of different Hinas are 
lunar deities. Yet the unity of the underlying symbol reacts on 
the theological conception to make the various distinct Hinas 
all of one blood, the "mother" with her "daughters." This 
calls for mythological elaboration, and gives rise to genuine 

The apparently irrational genealogies of gods and demi- 
gods spring from the fact that family relationships in myth 
may represent many different physical or logical relationships 
in nature and in human society. Night "gives birth" to Hang- 


ing Night, Drifting Night, Moaning Night; Morn, by a dif- 
ferent logic, to Abiding Day, Bright Day, and Space.^" And 
Man, in yet a different sense, is descended from the family 
of all these Powers. The moon's "daughters" owe their filial 
status to a very different source than Maui his sonship, yet they 
are, by reason of both relations, unquestionably his sisters. 
Thus it is that one may find a personage who is clearly a moon- 
goddess taking part in one of Maui's fishing adventures.^® 

I have dwelled so long on the personification of the moon 
because it is, in the first place, the most convincing example 
of myth-making, and in the second place it may well have 
been the original inspiration to that age-long and world-wide 
process. There is a school of mythologists who maintain that 
not only the first, but all, mythology is moon-mythology.^^ I 
doubt whether this sweeping assumption is justified, since 
analogous treatment would most naturally be accorded the 
sun, stars, earth, sea, etc., as soon as human mentality ad- 
vanced to the conception of an anthropomorphic lunar deity. 
Such an epoch-making stride of creative imagination could 
hardly have been limited to one subject or one symbol. Once 
we envisage Man's status in nature as that of a hero among 
cosmic gods, we cannot fail to see a host of gods ail round us; 
one would naturally expect, at this point, a "vegetative period" 
of religious fantasy. 

The term "religious fantasy" is deUberately used here, al- 
though many mythologists quite explicitly reject it. Lessmann, 
of the afore-mentioned school, points out as a peculiar fact 
that "Greek mythology creates an impression as though re- 
ligion and mythology were two closely related phenomena,"** 
and explains the origin of that deceptive appearance through 
a confusion of Greek mythological gods with the Babylonian 
cultus-gods. The gods of ritual are related to ancestral spooks, 
devils, and local deities; but "at bottom," he says, "demonol- 
ogy IS nothing but a low state of religion, and has no more 
than the latter to do with mythology." i have tried to show 
how this "confusion" is the normal meeting point of ritual 
gods and story gods, how the harvest sheaf who becomes a 
harvest maid takes over the story of some maiden of mythol- 
ogy, whereby the story becomes theology, and enters into genu- 
ine religious thought. 

In a book called La genese des mythes, A. H. Krappe de- 

'^Jbid., p. 12. '~Cf. Di.TOn, Oceanic Mytkotegy, pp. 26-27. 

2«Cf. Westervelt, op. cit., p. 156. 

'* Gesellsckajt fiir vergleichcnde Mytkenforschung. 

^ H. Lessmann, Aufgaben u'td Zicle df.r vergleickenden Hytkenjofsckung 
(Leipzig, 1907-1908), p. 7. " Loc. cit. 

dares categorically that myths are made up out of whole cloth 
by poets, are purely aesthetic productions, and are not believed 
unless they happen to be incorporated in some sacred book.^^ 
But this is to confuse the myth-making stage of thought with 
the literal stage. Belief and doubt belong essentially to the 
latter; the myth-making consciousness knows only the appeal 
of ideas, and uses or forgets them. Only the development of 
literal-mindedness throws doubt upon them and raises the 
question of religious belief. Those great conceptions which can 
only dawn on us in a vast poetic symbolism are not proposi- 
tions to which one says yea or nay; but neither are they liter- 
ary toys of a mind that "knows better." The Homeric Greeks 
probably did not "believe in" Apollo as an American funda- 
mentalist "believes in" Jonah and the whale, yet Apollo was 
not a literary fancy, a pure figment, to Homer, as he was to 
Milton. He was one of the prime realities — the Sun, the God, 
the Spirit from which men received inspirations. Whether any- 
one "beUeved" in all his deeds and amours does not matter; 
they were expressions of his character and seemed perfectly 
rational. Surely the Greeks believed in their gods just as we be- 
lieve in ours; but they had no dogma concerning those gods, 
because in the average mind no matter-of-fact doubts of divine 
story had yet arisen, to cloud the significance of those remote 
or invisible beings. Common sense had never asserted itself 
against such stories, to make them look like fairytales or sug- 
gest that they were figures of speech. They were figures of 
thought, and the only figures that really bold and creative 
thought knew. 

Yet there is something to be said for the contention that 
mythology is made by the epic poets. The great dreams of 
mankind, like the dreams of every individual man, are pro- 
tean, vague, inconsistent, and so embarrasspd with the riches 
of symbolic conception that every fantasy is apt to have a hun- 
dred versions. We see this in the numberless variants in which 
legends are handed down by peoples who have no literature. 
One identical hero has quite incompatible adventures, or one 
and the same adventure is ascribed to several heroes., gods, or 
ogres. Sometimes one cannot tell, a maiden from a bird, or 
from her own mother, whose "attributive animal" may be that 
same bird; and this bird-mother-daughter may be the Earth- 
Goddess and the Moon and the First Woman. Mythological 
figures in their pristine stages have no fixity, either of form 
or meaning; they are very much like dream images, elusive 

'^Seep. 23 ff. 


over-determined, their stones condensations of numberless 
ideas, their names often the only evidence of any self-iden- 
tity.^^ As soon as their imaginative growth is accomplished, 
traditions become meaningless and corrupt. Disconnected 
fragments of great primitive world-concepts survive in super- 
stitions or in magic formulae, which the skilled mythologist 
may recognize as echoes of a more ancient system of thought, 
but which the average intelligent mortal can only view as bi- 
zarre and surprising forms of foolishness. 

The great mythologies which have survived both the over- 
growth of mystic fable and the corruption of popular tradi- 
tion are those that have become fixed in national poems, such 
as the Iliad, the Eddas, the Ramayana, the Kaievala. For an 
epic may be fantastic, but it cannot be entirely inconsistent ; it 
is a narrative, its incidents have temporal order, its world is 
geographical and its characters personal. Just as the introduc- 
tion of nature-symbols gave fantasy a certain dominant pat- 
tern by seeing its monsters and personages exemplified in the 
behavior of sun and moon and stars, so the great vehicle of 
mj^thological tradition, the epic, places its peculiar restrictions 
on the rampant imagination and disciplines it further into con- 
sistency and coherence. For it demands not only personifica- 
tion, not only some sort of rise and fall in heroic action, but 
poetic form, a unity above the separate incidents, a beginning, 
climax, and solution of the entire mythical drama. Such formu- 
lation requires a radical handling of the story-material which 
tradition is apt to supply in prodigal quantities and utter con- 
fusion; therefore the principle of poetic form is a powerful 
agent in the refashioning of human ideas. This has given rise 
to the belief, stated in somewhat doctrinaire and exaggerated 
terms by Krappe, that mythology is essentially the work of 
epic poets. "Without the epic, no mythology. Homer is the 
author of the Hellenic mythology, the Norwegian and Ice- 
landic Skalds have created the mythology of Scandinavia. The 
same phenomenon may be seen in India, in Ireland, and in 
Japan." ^* 

" Miss Harrison lias given recognition to this fact, and it was tliis very insiglit 
wliicli led her to find the primitive sources of religion behind the civilized forms 
of Greek antiquity which sne knew as a scholar. 

"Our minds are imbued with classical mythology," she says, "our imagination 
peopled with the vivid personalities, the dear-ciit outlines of Olympian gods; it is 
only by a severe mental effort that we reali/* . . . that there were no gods at all, 
. , . but only conceptions of the human mind, shifting and changing colour with 
every human mind that conceived them. Art which makes the image, literature 
which crystallizes attributes and functions, arrest and fix this shifting kaleidoscope; 
but, until the coming of art and literature and to some extent after, the formiilar>- 
of theology is 'all things are in flux,' " Prolegomena, p. 164. 

" Krappe, La ginise des mythe.s (Paris, 1938), p. 57. 


Indeed, the mythologies of Hellas and of the Eddas seem 
very remote from the crazy dreamlike yarns of savages. For 
the great epics may move against a background of divine pow- 
ers and cosmic events, but their heroes are human, not mysti- 
cal, and the most wonderful deeds are logically motivated and 
accompiished. Ulysses or Siegfried or Beowulf sets out on a 
definite quest, and the story ends with its success or frustra- 
tion; the whole structure presents the career of a superhuman 
personage, a representative of the race in its strength and 
pride, definitely oriented in a world of grand forces and con- 
flicts, challenges, and destinies. When we look from these 
perfected cosmic and social conceptions in the great epics to 
the fantasies of Iroquois and South Sea Islanders, we may well 
be tempted to say that savages have no mythology worthy of 
the name, and that the poets are the creators of that vast sym- 
bolic form. 

Yet this is not true. The "making" of mythology by creative 
bards is only a metamorphosis of world-old and universal 
ideas. In the finished works of Homer and Hesiod we may see 
only what looks like free invention for the sake of the story, 
but in the poetry of ruder tribes the popular, religious origin 
of myth is still clearly apparent despite the formative influence 
of a poetic structure. 

The Finnish Kalevala is a classic example of the transition 
from mystical nature-theology and immemorial legend, to a 
national treasure of philosophical beliefs and historical tradi- 
tions embodied in permanent poetic form. It is probably the 
most primitive — though by no means the oldest — of all epics; 
and it is quite obviously a transcript of savage mythology, 
more concerned with cosmic origins, conflicts of nature-deities, 
incantations, feats and contests of magic, than with the ex- 
ploits of brave men and the good or evil ways of women. It 
knows no Trojan wars, no planned campaigns of vengeance; 
neither lifelong quests, nor founding of cities and temples. 
In its first "rune," or canto, the Water-Mother swims in the 
sea for seven hundred years; at last she lets the blue teal nest 
on her lifted knee, until from the fragments of its broken 
eggs the land, the shallows, the deeps and the sky are fash- 
ioned; after this creation she carries the hero in her womb for 
thirty years, whereupon he is born an old man full of magic. 
The Queen of Night supplies him with Rainbow Maidens and 
Air Princesses for unwilling ladyloves whom he never actually 
manages to marry. Wainamoinen, this strangely old and un- 
successful hero, plants forests and fells them, supervises the 



creation of grain, invents the steam bath, builds boats by sheer 
magic, and makes the first harp. He is no fairytale prince be- 
loved of women, but is purely a culture-hero. When he con- 
quers an adversary he does so by magic songs, and his rash 
young enemies and rivals challenge him not to armed combat, 
but to singing-contests. 

The whole story really reads more like Polynesian mythol- 
ogy than like European epic poetry. Animals are men's mes- 
sengers or servants, heroes are custodians of sun, moon, fire 
and water, maidens go to live with fishes, their mothers are 
Night Queens and their brothers Frost Giants. Kalevala is 
essentially a string of magic fishings and plantings and strange 
encounters, Uke a told dream, patched together with such 
human episodes as sledge-building, broom-binding, and the 
Finns' inevitable baths, to hold heroes and spirits somehow to 
the local scene. How far a call to Helen and Menelaus and 
Paris, the Achaean armies encamped, the death of Hector, the 
sorrow of Andromache! 

Yet there are culture-heroes in Greek legend, too, who 
steal fire from the gods, and youths who would contend with 
the sun; and in the Kalevala there are sudden passages of 
human import set in its strange mystical frame. When ancient 
Wainamoinen seeks the Rainbow Maid, the daushter of the 
Niffht Woman, that very real and lovely little girl throws her- 
self into a lake rather than give herself to the weird magician 
who was old when he was bom. The maiden Aino is too 
childlike, too human for him. She sits on a rock above the 
water, bewailing her youth and freedom and the cruel decree 
of her parents. Her plight is realistic and touchinsj, and her 
suicide quite naturally taboos the lake for the family, the 
tribe, and the unhappy lover. 

There is nothing in Polynesian or Indian mythology that 
comes as near to real life as the lament and desperate act of 
the Rainbow Maiden Aino. Every nature mythology treats the 
rainbow as an elusive maiden, but it requires the thoughtful 
formulation of poetry to see the rainbow's ephemeral beauty 
in a girl too wayward and beautiful for her aged lover, to put 
the human story first and incorporate the heavenly phenom- 
enon merely in her symbohc name. Here is the beginning of 
that higher mythology wherein the world is essentially the 
stage for human life, the setting of the true epic, which is 
human and social. This development in fantasy depends on 
the clarifying and unifying medium of conscious composition, 
the discipline of the compact metrical verse, which inevitably 


sets up Standards of coherence and continuity such as the frag- 
mentary dream-mode does not know or require. 

The effect of this poetic influence is incomplete in the 
Kalepala, but it is there, and lets us see the process by which 
mythology is "made" in the epic. The embodiment of mythol- 
ogy in poetry is simply its perfected and final form; because 
it has no subsequent higher phases, we regard this formulation 
as the "true" mythical imagination. And because the symbolic 
forms stand forth so clearly as pure articulations of fantasy, 
we see them only as fictions, not as the supreme concepts of 
life which they really represent, and by which men orient 
themselves religiously in the cosmos. 

It is a peculiar fact that every major advance in thinking, 
every epoch-making new insight, springs from a new type of 
symbolic transformation. A higher level of thought is pri- 
marily a new activity; its course is opened up by a new de- 
parture in semantic. The step from mere sign-using to 
symbol-using marked the crossing of the line between animal 
and man; this initiated the natural growth of language. The 
birth of symbolic gesture from emotional and practical move- 
ment probably begot the whole order of ritual, as well as the 
discursive mode of pantomime. The recognition of vague, 
vital meanings in physical forms — perhaps the first dawn of 
symbolism — gave us our idols, emblems, and totems; the 
primitive function of dream permits our first envisagement of 
events. The momentous discovery of nature-symbolism, of the 
pattern of life reflected in natural phenomena, produced the 
first universal insights. Every mode of thought is bestowed on 
us, like a gift, with some new principle of symbolic expres- 
sion. It has a logical development, which is simply the ex- 
ploitation of all the uses to which that symbolism lends itself; 
and when these uses are exhausted, the mental activity in 
question has found its limit. Either it serves its purpose and 
becomes tmistic, like our orientation in "Euclidean space" or 
our appreciation of objects and their accidents (on the pat- 
tern of language-structure, significantly called "logic") ; or it 
is superseded by some more powerful symbolic mode which 
opens new avenues of thought. 

The origin of myth is dynamic, but its purpose is philosoph- 
ical. It is the primitive phase of metaphysical thought, the first 
embodiment of general ideas. It can do no more than initiate 
and present them; for it is a non-discursive symbolism, it does 
not lend itself to analytic and genuinely abstractive tech- 
niques. The highest development of which myth is capable is 



the exhibition of iiuman life and cosmic order thiat epic poetry 
reveals. We cannot abstract and manipulate its concepts any 
further within the mythical mode. When this mode is ex- 
hausted, natural religion is superseded by a discursive and 
more literal form of thought, namely philosophy. 

Language, in its literal capacity, is a stiff and conventional 
medium, unadapted to the expression of genuinely new ideas, 
which usually have to break in upon the mind through some 
great and bewildering metaphor. But bare denotative language 
is a most excellent instrument of exact reason; it is, in fact, 
the only general precision instrument the human brain has 
ever evolved.*-'' Ideas first adumbrated in fantastic form be- 
come real intellectual property only when discursive language 
rises to their expression. That is why myth is the indispensable 
forerunner of metaphysics; and metaphysics is the literal for- 
mulation of basic abstractions, on which our comprehension of 
sober facts is based. All detail of knowledge, all exact distinc- 
tion, measure, and practical manipulation, are possible only on 
a basis of truly abstract concepts, and a framework of such 
concepts constitutes a philosophy of nature, literal, denotative, 
and systematic. Only language has the power to effect such an 
analysis of experience, such a rationalization of knowledge. 
But it is only where experience is already presented — through 
some other formative medium, some vehicle of apprehension 
and memory — that the canons of literal thought have any ap- 
plication. We must have ideas before we can make Uteral an- 
alyses of them; and really new ideas have their own modes 
of appearance in the unpredictable creative mind. 

The first inquiry as to the literal truth of a myth marks the 
change from poetic to discursive thinking. As soon as the in- 
terest in factual values awakes, the mythical mode of worid- 
envisagement is on the wane. But emotional attitudes that 
have long centered on a myth are not easily broken; the vital 
ideas embodied in it cannot be repudiated because somone 
discovers that the myth does not constitute a fact. Poetic sig- 
nificance and factual reference, which are two entirely different 
relations in the general symbol-and-meaning pattern, become 
identified under the one name of "truth." People who discover 
the obvious discrepancy between fantasy and fact deny that 
myths are true; those who recognize the truth of myths claim 
that they register facts. There is the silly conflict of religion 
and science, in which science must triumph, not because what 
it says about religion is just, but because religion rests on a 

" I regard mathematical symbolism as a linguistic form of expression. 

young aad provisional form of thought, to which philosophy 
of nature — proudly called "science," or "knowledge" — must 
succeed if thinking is to go on. There must be a rationalistic 
period from this point onward. Some day when the vision is 
totally rationalized, the ideas exploited and exhausted, there 
will be another vision, a new mythology. 

The gods have their twilight, the heroes are forgotten; but 
though mythology has been a passing phase in man's mental 
history, the epic lives on, side by side with philosophy and 
science and all the higher forms of thought. Why? What is the 
epic, the apotheosis of myth, to those who have repudiated 
that metaphorical view of life? 

The epic is the first flower — or one of the first, let us say — 
of a new symbolic mode, the mode of art. It is not merely a 
receptacle of old symbols, namely those of myth, but is itself 
a new symbolic form, great with possibilities, ready to take 
meanings and express ideas that have had no vehicle before. 
What these new ideas are to which art gives us our first, and 
perhaps our only, access, may be gathered from an analysis of 
that perfectly familiar yet cryptic notion, "musical signifi- 
cance," to which we proceed in the next chapter. 

8. On St^ntjicance in Music 

WHAT DISTINGUISHES a work of art from a "mere" artifact? 
What distinguishes the Greek vase, as an artistic achievement, 
from the hand-made bean pot of New England, or the wooden 
bucket, which cannot be classed as a work of art? The Greek 
vase is an artifact, too; it was fashioned according to a tradi- 
tional pattern; it was made to hold grain or oil or other do- 
mestic asset, not to stand in a museum. Yet it has an artistic 
value for all generations. What gives it that preeminence? 

To reply, "Its beauty," is simply to beg the question, since 
artistic value is beauty in the broadest sense. Bean pots and 
wooden buckets often have what artists call "a good shape," 
i.e., they are in no wise offensive to the eye. Yet, without being 
at all ugly, they are insignificant, commonplace, ««?'?artistic 
rather than inartistic. What do they lack, that a work of art — 
even a humble, domestic Greek vase — possesses.' 

In the words of a well-known critic, Mr. Clive Bell, '" 'Sig- 
nificant Form* is the one quality common to all works of vis- 
ual art." 1 Professor L. A. Reid, a philosopher well versed in 

' An (London, 1914), p. 8. 


the problems of aesthetics, extends the scope of this character- 
istic to all art whatsoever. For him, "Beauty is just expressive- 
ness." and "the true aesthetic form , , . is expressive form," ^ 
Another art critic, Mr. Roger Fry, accepts the term "Significant 
Form," though he frankly cannot define its meaning. From 
the contemplation of (say) a beautiful pot, and as an effect of 
its harmony of line and texture and color, "there comes to us," 
he says, "a feeling of purpose; we feel that all these sensually 
logical conformities are the outcome of a particular feeling, or 
of what, for want of a better word, we call an idea; and we 
may even say that the pot is the expression of an idea in the 
artist's mind." ® After many efforts to define the notion of 
artistic expressiveness, he concludes; "1 seem to be unable at 
present to get beyond this vague adumbration of significant 
form. Flaubert's 'expression of the idea' seems to me to corre- 
spond exactly to what 1 mean, but alas ! he never explained, 
and probably could not, what he meant by the 'idea.* " * 

There is a strong tendency today to treat art as a significant 
phenomenon rather than as a pleasurable experience, a grati- 
fication of the senses. This is probably due to the free use of 
dissonance and so-called "ugliness" by our leading artists in 
all fields — in literature, music, and the plastic arts. It may also 
be due in some measure to the striking indifference of the un- 
educated masses to artistic values. In past ages, these masses 
had no access to great works of art; music and painting and 
even books were the pleasures of the wealthy; it could be as- 
sumed that the poor and vulgar would enjoy art if they could 
have it. But now, since everybody can read, visit museums, 
and hear great music at least over the radio, the judgment of 
the masses on these things has become a reality, and has made 
it quite obvious that great art is not a direct sensuous pleasure. 
If it were, it would appeal — like cake or cocktails — to the un- 
tutored as well as to the cultured taste. This fact, together 
with the intrinsic "unpleasantness" of much contemporary art, 
would naturally weaken any theory that treated art as pure 
pleasure. Add to this the current logical and psychological in- 
terest in symbolism, in expressive media and the articulation 
of ideas, and we need not look far afield for a new philosophy 
of art, based upon the concept of "significant form." ^ 

^ A Study in Aesthetics (1931). See esp. pp. 43 and 197. See also Knowledge 
and Truth (London, 1923), esp. the final chapter, and "Beauty and .Significance,'^ 
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, N.S. XXIX (1928-29), pp. 123-154. 

' Vision and Design (London, 1925), p. 50. ' Ibid., p. 302. 

^ This tendency was recognized long ago by the author of an article on sym- 
bolism, which opens with the words: ' An exhaustive treatise on the symbol is an 
aesthetic in miniature; for in recent years symbolism has acquired such a central 

Bat if forms in and of themselves be significant, and indeed 
must be so to be classed as artistic, then certainly the kind of 
significance that belongs to them constitutes a very special 
problem in semantics. What is artistic significance? What sort 
of meaning do "expressive forms" express? 

Clearly they do not convey propositions, as literal symbols 
do. We alf know that a seascape (sav) represents water and 
rocks, boats and fish-piers; that a still-life reoresents oranges 
and app'es, a vase of flowers, dead game or fish, etc. But such 
a content is not what makes the paint-patterns on the canvas 
"expressive forms." The mere notion of rabbits, grapes, or 
even boats at sunset is not the "idea" that inspires a painting. 
The artistic idea is always a "deeper" conception. 

Several psychologists have ventured to unmask this "deeper" 
significance by interpreting pictures, poems, and even musical 
compositions as symbols of loved ob'ects, mainly, of course, 
of a forbidden nature. Artistic activity, according to the 
psychoanalysts who have given it their attention, is an exores- 
sion of primitive dynamisms, of unconscious wishes, and uses 
the obiects or scenes represented to embody the secret fantasies 
of the artist.** 

This explanation has much to recommend it. It accounts 
for the fact that we are inclined to credit works of art with 
significance, although (by reason of the moral censorship 
which distorts the appearance of basic desires) we can never 
say what they signify. It does justice to the emotional interest, 
the seriousness with which we receive artistic experience. 
Above all, it brings this baffling department of human activity 
into the compass of a general psychological system — the so- 
called "dynamic psychology," based on the recognition of cer- 
tain fundamental human needs, of the conflicts resulting from 

position in aesthetics tiiat one can hardly take a step in tiiat wide domain witiiout 
stur-blrn? I'DOn some sort of symbolic relation." R. M. Wernaer. "Dss pesthetische 
Symbo'." Zeitschrift fur Philosephie und philosophisclie Kritik, CXXX fl90"), 
1 : 47-78. 

"See Ch. Badouin, Psychoanalyse de I'art (1929): A. M. Bodlcin. "Tlie Rel- 
evance n{ Psyrh^-Analysis to Art Criti'-ism," British Journal of Psychology. XV 
(1924-25). part 11. 174-183; J. W. Brown, "Psych'-analysis in the Plastic Arts," 
Internalional journal of PsychoanalyHs, X. part 1 (January 1929); J. Landquist, 
"Das kiinn'erische Symbol." Imago VI (1920), 4: 297-322; Hanns Sachs. "Kunst 
als Per^wnl'^hkeit," Imago, XV (1929), 1; 1-14; the same author's bibliographical 
essay, "Aesthetics and Psychology of the Artist " Inlernational Journal of Psycho- 
analysis. II (1921), part I, 94^100; George Whitehead. Psychoanalysis and An 
(1930) With special reference to music, see A. Elster, Musik und Erotik fBonn, 
1925); Man Graf, Die innere frcr*rfo«<(<fs ilfKiWcrf (Stuttgart, 1910): K. Egsar. 
"The Sub-ons-ious Mind and the Musical Faculty." Proceedings oj the Musical 
Association XLVII (1920-21). 23-38; D. Mosonyi, "Die irrationalen Grundligen 
der Mu=ik " Imago. XXI (1935), 2: 207-226; A. van der Chijs. "Ueber das 
Unisono in der Komposition," Imago, XII (1926), 1: 23-31. This list is not 
exhaustive, but representative. 



their mutual interference, and of tlie meclianism wliereby tiiey 
assert, disguise, and finally realize themselves. The starting- 
point of this psychology is the discovery of a previously un- 
recognized symbolic mode, typified in dream, and perfectly 
trace.'ble in all works of fantasy. To assimilate art to the 
imaginative life in general is surely not a forced procedure. It 
seems, moreover, to bring the problem of aesthetic experience 
into the symbol-centered philosophy that constitutes the theme 
of this book. 

These are strong recommendations for the psychoanalytic 
theory of aesthetics. But despite them all, I do not think this 
theory (though probably valid) throws any real light on those 
issues which confront artists and critics and constitute the 
philosophical problem of art. For the Freudian interpretation, 
no matter how far it be carried, never offers even the rudest 
criterion of artistic excellence. It may explain why a poem 
was written, why it is popular, what human features it hides 
under its fanciful imagery; what secret ideas a picture com- 
bines, and why Leonardo's women smile mysteriously. But it 
makes no distinction between good and bad art. The features 
to which it attributes the importance and significance of a 
great masterpiece may all be found just as well in an obscure 
work of some quite incompetent painter or poet. Wilhelm 
Stekel, one of the leading Freudian psychologists interested in 
artistic productions as a field for analysis, has stated this fact 
explicitly: "I want to point out at once," he says, "that it is 
irrelevant to our purpose whether the poet in (Question is a 
great, universally acknowledged poet, or whether we are deal- 
ing with a little poetaster. For, after all, we are investigating 
only the impulse which drives people to create." 

An analysis to which the artistic merit of a work is irrelevant 
can hardly be regarded as a promising technique of art-criti- 
cism,* for it can look only to a hidden content of the work, 

^ Die Triiume der Dickter (Wiesbaden. 1912), p. 32. 

^ Oddly enough, this fact is overlooked by so excellent a literary critic as J. M. 
Thorburn, who says: "The poet must, I think, be regarded as striving after the 
simplicity of a childish utterance. His goal is to think as a child, to understand 
as a child. . . . 

"when he has written^ and the work is good, the irieasure of his genius is the 
depth to which he has gone back, the originality of his idiom and the degree of 
its antiquity." (Art and the Unconscious [London, 1925], pp. 70-71.) 

"If art be symbolic, it is the artist who discovers the symbol. But he need 
not — though of course he may — recognize it as a symbol. We, the appreciative 
recipients of his work, must so recognize it." {Ibid., p. 79.) 

This makes artistic judgment a special development of psychoanalytic technique. 
"We try to reconstruct his [the artist's] personality from whatever sources we 
may." (Ibid., p. 21.) The more dreamlike and subjective the work, the more 

arimitive is its language; the greatest poets should then be the most graphic 
reamers. Stekel has pointed out, nowever, that at the level of symbol production 
the poet does not differ from the most prosaic soul. After analyzing three dreams 



and not to what every artist knows as the real problem — the 
perfection of form, which makes this form "significant" in 
the artistic sense. We cannot evaluate this perfection by find- 
ing more and more obscure objects represented or suggested 
by the form. 

Interest in represented objects and interest in the visual or 
verbal structures that depict them are always getting hope- 
lessly entangled. Yet I believe "artistic meaning" belongs to 
the sensuous construct as such; this alone is beautiful, and 
contains all that contributes to its beauty. 

The most obvious approach to the formal aspect of art 
would be, of course, through the study of pure design. But in 
poetry pure design is non-existent, and in the plastic arts it 
has played but a minor role until very recent times. It is carried 
to considerable heights in textiles, and occurs as decoration in 
conjunction with architecture and ceramics. But the world's 
greatest artists have rarely worked in these media; sculptures 
and paintings are their high achievements. If we would really 
restrict ourselves to pure perceptible forms, the plastic arts 
offer but a sparse field for research, and not a central one. 

Music, on the other hand, is preeminently non-representative 
even in its classical productions, its highest attainments. It ex- 
hibits pure form not as an embellishment, but as its very es- 
sence; we can take it in its flower — for instance, German music 
from Bach to Beethoven — and have practically nothing but 
tonal structures before us: no scene, no object, no fact. That is 
a great aid to our chosen preoccupation with form. There is 
no obvious, literal content in our way. If the meaning of art 
belonj^s to the sensuous percept itself apart from what it os- 
tensibly represents, then such purely artistic meaning should be 
most accessible through musical works. 

This is not to say that music is the highest, the most expres- 
sive, or the most universal art. Sound is the easiest medium to 
use in a purely artistic way; but to work in the safest medium 
is not at all the same thing as to achieve the highest aim. Fur- 
thermore, we should take warning against the fallacy of hasty 
generalization — of assuming that through music we are study- 
ing all the arts, so that every insight into the nature of music 
is immediately applicable to painting, architecture, poetry, 

—one repoited by a woman under his care, one by Goethe, arid one by t-hat poet's 
frie'^d and hencnman. Erkerm^nn — he observes: "Is it not remarkable that the 
great poet Goethe and the unlcnown little woman . . . should have constructed 
such similar dreams? And were one to award a prize for poetic excellence, Eckermann 
and the deserted wnman would both win over Goethe." (Die Triume dcr Dichter, 
P. U.) 



dance, and drama; and above all, that propositions which do 
not have obvious analogues in all these departments are not 
very valuable in their restricted musical context.* A basic unity 
of purpose and even of general method for all the arts is a very 
inviting hypothesis, and may well be demonstrable in the end; 
but as a foregone conclusion, a dogmatic premise, it is danger- 
ous because it discourages special theories and single-minded, 
technical study. General theories should be constructed by 
generalization from the principles of a special field, known and 
understood in full detail. Where no such systematic order ex- 
ists to serve as a pattern, a general theory is more likely to 
consist of vague generalities than of valid generalizations. 

Therefore let us concern ourselves, at present, with the sig- 
nificance of music alone. A great deal of philosophical thought 
has been bestowed on this subject, if not since Winkelmann 
and Herder, at least since Schopenhauer; and not only from 
the general standpoint of the aesthetician, which those early 
writers took, but from the more specialized one of the musi- 
cian and the musical critic. The history of musical aesthetics is 
an eventful one, as intellectual histories go, so it is unavoidable 
that a good many theories have to be weighed in considering it. 
In the course of all this reflection and controversy, the problem 
of the nature and function of music has shifted its center sev- 
eral times; in Kant's day it hinged on the conception of the 
arts as cultural agencies, and concerned the place of music 
among these contributions to intellectual progress. On this 
basis the great worshiper of reason naturally ranked it lowest 
of all art-forms.^" The Darwinians of later days sought the 
key to its importance in its origins; if it could be proved — or 
at least, imagined — to have survival value, or even to be the 
residue of some formerly useful instinct or device, its dignity 
was saved, even if our interest in it now were only what Wil- 
liam James took it to be — "a mere incidental peculiarity of the 
nervous system, with no teleological significance." Helm- 
holtz, Wundt, Stumpf, and other psychologists to whom the 

* An artistic principle may be obvious in just one special field, and prove to be 
generally applicable only after development in that field; for instance, Edward 
Bn]lough'& excellent notion of "psychical distance" (of which more will be said 
later) would probably not have been recognized as an important principle in music 
or ceramic art, but the peculiar problems of drama required such a concept. Even 
if it had not proved to be universally applicable, it would be valid in its original 
domain. (See 'Psychical Distance^ as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic 
Principle," British Journal of Psychology, V (1912), part II, 87-118.) 

See the excerpt from Kant's Kritik der Urteihkrajt'm F. M. Gatz's source- 
book, Musik-Aesthetik (Stuttgart, 1929), p. 53. 

" Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (1890). See vol. 11, p. 419. His words refer 
directly to fear-reactions in high places, which, he says, in this respect resemble 
"liability to sea-sickness, or love of music." 



existence and persistence of music presented a problem, based 
their inquiries on the assumption that music was a form of 
pleasurable sensation, and tried to compound the value of mu- 
sical compositions out of the "pleasure-elements" of their tonal 
constituents. This gave rise to an aesthetic based on liking and 
disliking, a hunt for a sensationist definition of beauty, and a 
conception of art as the satisfaction of taste; this type of art 
theory, which of course applies without distinction to all the 
arts, is "aesthetic" in the most literal sense, and its exponents 
today are rather proud of not overstepping the limits of the 
field so defined. 12 But beyond a description of tested pleasure- 
displeasure reactions to simple sounds or elementary sound- 
complexes, and certain observations on people's tastes in mu- 
sical selections, this approach has not taken us; it seems to be 
an essentially barren adventure. 

Another kind of reaction to music, however, is more strik- 
ing, and seems more significant: that is the emotional response 
it is commonly supposed to evoke. The belief that music 
arouses emotions goes back even to the Greek philosophers. 
It led Plato to demand, for his ideal state, a strict censorship 
of modes and tunes, lest his citizens be tempted by weak or 
voluptuous airs to indulge in demoralizing emotions.^ ^ The 
same principle is often invoked to explain the use of music in 
tribal society, the lure of the African drum, the clarion call 
and the "Pibroch" calling armies or clans to battle, the world- 
old custom of lulling the baby to sleep with slumber songs. 
The legend of the sirens is based on a belief in the narcotic and 
toxic effect of music, as also the story of Terpander's prevent- 
ing civil war in Sparta, or of the Danish King Eric, who com- 
mitted murder as a result of a harpist's deliberate experiment 
in mood-production. 1* Despite the fact that there is, to my 
knowledge, not a single authentic record of any specific change 
of disposition or intention, or even the inhibition of a practi- 
cal impulse in any person by the agency of music, this belief 
in the physical power of the art has come down to modern 
times. Music is known, indeed, to affect pulse-rate and res- 
piration, to facilitate or disturb concentration, to excite or 

'-Thus Ciive Beil, having proposed the concept of "significant form" as the 
keynote of art criticism, says: "At this point a query arises . . .: 'Why are we so 
profoundly moved by forms related in a particular way?' The question is extremely 
interesting, but irrelevant to aesthetics. In pure aesthetics we have only to consider 
our emotion and its object." 

If questions about the relation between emotion and object are irrelevant, what 
is there to "consider" about these factors? 
Republic, blc. iii. 

" These and other stories are cited by Irmgard Otto in an essay. "Von sonoer- 
bahrer Wurckung und Krafft der Mu.5il<." Die Musik, XXIX (1937), part II, 


relax the organism, while the stimulus lasts; but beyond evok- 
ing impulses to sing, tap, adjust one's step to musical rhythm, 
perhaps to stare, hold one's breath or take a tense attitude, 
music does not ordinarily influence behavior.^'' Its somatic in- 
fluences seem to affect unmusical as well as musical persons 
(the selections usually employed in experimentation would be 
more likely to irritate than to soothe or inspire a musical per- 
son), and to be, therefore, functions of sound rather than of 
music.^^ Experiments made with vocal music are entirely unre- 
liable, since words and the pathos of the human voice are 
added to the musical stimulus. On the whole, the behavior of 
concert audiences after even the most thrilling performances 
makes the traditional magical influence of music on human 
actions very dubious. Its somatic effects are transient, and its 
moral hangovers or uplifts seem to be negligible. 

Granting, however, that the effects do not long outlive their 
causes, the proposition that music arouses emotions in the lis- 
tener does not seem, offhand, like a fantastic or mythical asser- 
tion. In fact, the belief in the affective power of music is re- 
spectable enough to have led some very factual-minded modern 
psychologists to conduct tests for the emotional effects of dif- 
ferent compositions and collect the reported data. They have 
compiled lists of possible "effects," such as: 

Sad Rested 

Serious Amused 

Like dancing Sentimental 

Stirred, excited Longing 

Devotional Patriotic 

Gay, happy Irritated 

The auditors of certain musical selections, which were usually 
of the so-called "semi-popular" sort (e.g. MacDowell's To a 
Wild Rose, Sousa's Volunteer March), were given prepared 
data-sheets and asked to check their musically stimulated feel- 
ings with the rubrics there suggested. 

For an exhaustive treatment of the physical and mental effects of music, see 
the dissertation by Charles M. Disserens, The Influence of Music oft Behavior 
(1926). Dr. Disserens accepts much evidence that I would question, yet offers no 
report of practical acts inspired by music, or even permanent effects on tempera- 
ment or disposition, such as were claimed for it in the eighteenth century. (Cf., 
e.g., Reflections on Anticnt and Modern Musick. Trith Application to the Cure of 
Diseases f.\non., 1749); or Albrecht's De EffectuMuskes in Corpus Animatumi) 
^' An ^ftei> neglected dis'inction pointed out in Ernst Kurth's Musik-psychologie 
(Berlin, 1931), p. 152. Kurth observes that Stumpf, working deliberately with 
unmusical rather than musical persons, gave us a TonpsychologtehMl not a Musik- 

See Esther Gatewood, "The Nature of Musical Enjoyment," in The Ejects 
of Music, edited by Max Schoen (New York; Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1927). 

The results of such experiments!* add very little to the 
well-known fact that most people connect feelings with mu- 
sic, and (unless they have thought about the precise nature of 
that connection) believe they have the feelings while they are 
under the influence of the music, especially if you ask them 
which of several feelings the music is giving them. That quick, 
lilting tunes are said to make one feel happy or "like danc- 
ing," hymns to make one solemn, and funeral marches sad, 
is hardly surprising; nor that Love's Old Sweet Song was 
generally said to stir "tender memories." The whole inquiry 
really took for granted what Charles Avison, a British musi- 
cologist and organist, said without experimental evidence in 
1775: that "the force of sound in alarming the passions is 
prodigious," and that music "does naturally raise a variety of 
passions in the human breast, similar to the sounds which are 
expressed; and thus, by the musician's art, , , , we are by 
turns elated with joy, or sunk in pleasing sorrow rouzed to 
courage, or quelled by grateful terrors, melted into pity, ten- 
derness, and love, or transported to the regions of bliss, in an 
extacy of divine praise." 

The terms "pleasing sorrow" and "grateful terrors" present 
something of a puzzle. If music really grieves or frightens us, 
why do we listen to it? The modem experimenters are not 
disturbed by this question, but Avison felt called upon to meet 
it. The sorrows and terrors of music, he explained, are not our 
own, but are sympathetically felt by us; "There are certain 
sounds natural to joy, others to grief or despondency, others 
to tenderness and love; and by hearing these, we naturally 
sympathize with those who either enjoy or suffer." 20 

But if we are moved by sympathy, with whom are we sym- 
pathizing.'* Whose feelings do we thus appreciate? The obvi- 
ous answer is: the musician's. He who produces the music is 
pouring out the real feelings of his heart. Music is his avenue 
of self-expression, he confesses his emotions to an audience, 
or — in solitude — just works them off to relieve himself. In an 

^ These results were, of course, not spontaneous, since the questionnaire directed 
the subjects' expectations to a special kind of experience which is popularly sup- 
posed to result from hearing music, and moreover dictated a choice, which made 
it necessary to attribute some particular feeling wholly, or preeminently, to any 
given piece. Fleeting affects, superseded by others, could not be checked off with- 
out creating a wrong impression ; only general states of feeling were supposed to 
result, and were therefore dutifully reported. 

Essentially the same technique is employed by Kate Hevner; see her "Ex- 
pression in Music: Discussion of Experimental Studies and Theories," Psyckological 
Review. XLII (1935), 2: 186-204, and "Experimental Studies of the Elements of 
Expression in Music," American Journal of Psychology, XLVIII (1936), 2: 246- 

An Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1775)^ pp. 3-4. 
^ Lac. cit. See also p. 5, n. 


age when most performers offered their own compositions or 
even improvisations, this explanation of music was quite nat- 
ural. Rousseau, Marpurg, Mattheson, C. Ph. E. Bach, were all 
convinced that (as Bach put it) "since a musician cannot 
otherwise move people, but he be moved himself, so he must 
necessarily be able to induce in himself all those affects which 
he would arouse in his auditors; he conveys his feelings to 
them, and thus most readily moves them to symoathetic emo- 
tions." The problem was somewhat complicated by the 
growing distinction between composers and performers toward 
the end of the century; but here the reciprocity of expression 
and impression came to the rescue. The composer is, indeed, 
the original sub'ect of the emofons deo'Cted, but the per- 
former becomes at once his confidant and his mouthpiece. He 
transmits the feelings of the master to a sympathetic audience. 

In this form the doctrine has come down to our day, and is 
widely accepted by musicians and philosophers alike. From 
Rousseau to Kierkegaard and Croce among philosophers, from 
Marpur? to Hausegger and Riemann among music crit<cs, but 
above al! among musicians themselves — composers, conductors, 
and performers — we find the belief very widely disseminated 
that music is an emotional catharsis, that its essence is self-ex- 
pression. Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, to mention only the 
great, have left us testimonials to that effect. Moreover, it is 
the opinion of the average sentimental music-lover that all 
moving and poignant music must translate some personal ex- 
perience, the longing or ecstasy or despair of the artist's own 
vie amoureuse; and most musical amateurs will accept with- 
out hes'tation the statement of Henri Prunieres, who says cat- 
egorically that whatever feelings a composer may convey, "we 
may rest assured that he will not express these sentiments 
with authority unless he has experienced them at some given 
moment of his existence." Most likely they will even go so 
far as to agree that, in the case of a theme which Beethoven 
used ten years after he had first jotted it down, "It is probable 
that such a theme, translating an impression of keenest sor- 
row, came to him during a day of suffering." The self-ex- 
pression theory, which classes music with "such expressions as 
'oh-oh,' or at a higher level, lyrical verses," as Carnap says, 

*^ Vpy^ch uebf^r die ivakn Art, das Klavier su spiden (Leipzig, 1925, reprint 
from 2nd ed.; 1st ed., part I, 17S3, part II, 1762). See part I, p. 85. For a 
detailp'^ study of this early theory, see Wi^helm Casoari's dis^rtation, Gegf.nstand 
und Wirkungder Tonkunst nack der Ansickt der Deutschen im IS. Jahrhundert 
(Erlangen 1903). For extensive source-material, see Gatz, Musik-Aestketik. 

""Musical Symbolism," Musical Quarterly, XIX (1933), 1: 18-28. See p. 20. 

"/Aid., p. 21. 



is the most popular doctrine of the significance and function 
of music, 2* It explains in a very plausible way the undeniable 
connection of music with feeling, and the mystery of a work 
of art without ostensible subject-matter; above all, it brings 
musical activity within the compass of modern psychology — ■ 
behavioristic, dynamic, genetic, or what not. 

Yet the belief that music is essentially a form of self-ex- 
pression meets with paradox in very short order; philosophi- 
cally it comes to a stop almost at its very beginning. For the 
history of music has been a history of more and more inte- 
grated, disciplined, and articulated forms, much like the his- 
tory of language, which waxes important only as it is weaned 
from its ancient source in expressive cries, and becomes deno- 
tative and connotative rather than emotional. We have more 
need of, and respect for, so-called "pure music" than ancient 
cultures seem to have had ; yet our counterpoints and har- 
monic involutions have nothing like the expressive abandon 
of the Indian "Ki-yi" and "How-how," the wailing primitive 
dirge, the wild syncopated shouts of African tribesmen. Sheer 
self-expression requires no artistic form. A lynching-party 
howling round the gallows-tree, a woman wringing her hands 
over a sick child, a lover who has just rescued his sweetheart 
in an accident and stands trembling, sweating, and perhaps 
laughing or crying with emotion, is giving vent to intense 
feelings; but such scenes are not occasions for music, least of 
all for composing. Not even a theme, "translating an impres- 
sion of keenest sorrow," is apt to come to a man, a woman, or 
a mob in a moment when passionate self-expression is needed. 
The laws of emotional catharsis are natural laws, not artistic. 
Verbal responses like "Ah!" "Oh-oh!" are not creations, but 
speech-habits ; even the expressiveness of oaths rests not on the 
fact that such words were invented for psycho-cathartic pur- 
poses, but that they are taboo, and the breaking of a taboo 
gives emotional release. Breaking a vase would do better still. 

Yet it may well be argued that in playing music we seek, 
and often find, self-expression. Even Hanslick, to whom emo- 
tive meanings in a composition were anathema, granted the 
possibility of relieving one's feelings at the keyboard; 2® and 

2* Even our leading psycholosists subscribe to this conviction i "To be successful, 
tile musician must carry his autlience on a wave of emotion often bordering on 
the point of ecstasy." This from Carl Seashore, who prides himself on his strict 
investigation of facts, not "the rehashing of semi-scientific knowledge under the 
name of philosophy in aesthetics"! (See Psychology of Music (New York: 
McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1938), pp. 174 and 377.) 

^ Cf E{^^,ard Hanslick, Vom Mustkalisch-Schdtien (Leipzig, 5th ed. 1876; 1st 
ed. 1854), p. 103; also Ferniccio Busoni, Entwurj einer neuen Aesthetik der Ton- 
kmst (1907), p. 5. 

Op. cit., pp. 78-79. 



anyone who has a voice or an instrument can verify the relief 
of musical outpourings, from his own experience. Surely, at 
some tinie. he has been moved to vent his excitement in song 
or rhaosody or furious tarantelle. and felt better for the manic 
outburst; and. being "keyed up," he probably sang or played 
unusually well. He chose the piece because it seemed to "ex- 
press" his condition. It seemed to him, at least at the time, 
that •■'^e piece was designed to speak his feelings, and not im- 
poss'b'v he may believe forever after that these must be the 
verv feelings the composer intended to record in the score. 

The great variety of interpretations which different players 
or auditors will give to one and the same piece — differences 
even of such general feeling-contents as sad. angry, elated, im- 
patient — make such confidence in the author's intentions ap- 
pear somewhat naive. He could not poss'bly have been feeling 
all the different emotions his composition seems to be able 
to express. The fact is, that we can use music to work off our 
sub'ective experiences and restore our personal balance, but 
this is not its primary function. Were it so, it would be utterly 
impossible for an artist to announce a program in advance, 
and expect to play it well; or even, havincf announced it on the 
spot, to express /himself successively in allegro, adagio, presto, 
and alleoretto, as the chanping moods of a single sonata are 
apt to dictate. Such mercurial passions would be abnormal even 
in the notoriously capricious race of musicians \ 

If music has any significance, it is semantic, not sympto- 
matic. Its "meaning" is evidently not that of a stimulus to 
evoke emotions, nor that of a signal to announce them; if 
it has an emotional content, it "has" it in the same sense that 
language "has" its conceotual content — symbolically. It is not 
usually derived from affects nor intended for them; but we 
may say, with certain reservations, that it is about them. Music 
is not the cause or the cure of feelings, but their logical ex- 
pression: though even in this capacity it has its special ways 
of functioning, that make it incommensurable with language, 
and even with presentational symbols like images, gestures, 
and rites. 

Many attempts have been made to treat music as a language 
of emotions. None has been really satisfactory, though some 
of them are both searching and well-directed. An extraordi- 
nary amount of able thinking has been expended on the philos- 
ophy of music, and the only stumbling-block wh'ch has held 
up the progress of this central problem of "significant form" 
has been, I think, a lack of understanding of the ways in which 


logical structures may enter into various types of "sign'fi- 
cance." Practically all the work has been done ; the anomahes 
and puzz'es that remain, though very baffling, are mainly due 
to logical misconceptions, or slightly naive assumptions which 
only a logician could be expected to recognize as such. Here 
we run into a difficulty inherent in the scholarship of our time 
— the obstacle of too much knowledge, which forces us to ac- 
cept the so-called "findings" of specialists in other fields, 
"findings" that were not made with reference to our search- 
ings, and often leave the things that would be most important 
for us, unfound. Riemann, for instance, declared with perfect 
confidence that musical aesthetics may and must accept the 
laws of logic and the doctrines of logicians as given. 27 

But it happens that just in musical aesthetics the vital prob- 
lem with which we are faced is one that involves the entire 
logic of symbolism. It is a logical problem of art, and no logi- 
cian would be likely to search, in his own interest, for the 
"findings" that are relevant to it. It concerns the logical struc- 
ture of a type of symbol that logicians do not use, and would 
therefore not even stumble upon as an interesting freak. In 
short, we are dealing with a philosophical problem, requiring 
logical study, and involving music: for to be able to define 
"musical meaning" adequately, precisely, but for an artistic, 
not a positwistic context and purpose, is the touchstone of a 
really Dowerful philosophy of symbolism. 

For the sake of orientation, let us now explicitly abandon 
the problems of music as stimulus and music as emotive symp- 
tom, since neither of these functions (though both undoubt- 
edly exist) would suffice to account for the importance we 
attach to it; and let us assume that its "significance" is in some 
sense that of a symbol. The challenge to our theory, then, is 
to determine in what sense this can be said; for it is certainly 
not true in every sense. The question takes us back to Chapter 
III, to the logic of symbols and the various possibilities of 
meaning that symbolic structures may contain. Here we should 
find the conditions for a "language of music" if such there be, 
or of "significant form" of any other sort than language. 

The assumption that music is a kind of language, not of 
the here-and-now, but of genuine conceptual content, is widely 
entertained, though perhaps not as universally as the emotive- 
symptom theory. The best-known pioneer in this field is Scho- 
penhauer: and it has become something of an accepted verdict 
that his attempt to interpret music as a symbol of the irrational 

"Hugo Riemann, Die Eiemenle der musikaliscken Aesthetik (1903), p. 3. 


aspect of menta! life, the Will, was a good venture, though of 
course his conclusion, being "metaphysical," was quite bad. 
However that may be, his novel contribution to the present 
issue was certainly his treatment of music as an impersonal, 
negotiable, real semantic, a symbolism with a content of ideas, 
instead of an overt sign of somebody's emotional condition. 
This principle was quickly adopted by other thinkers, though 
there was considerable debate as to what ideational content was 
embodied in the laneuage of tones. Indeed, one author lists 
no less than sixteen interprebtions, including "the expression 
of the Freedom of the WiU" and "the expression of Con- 
science." 28 

The most obvious and naive reading of this "language" is 
the onomatopoetic one, the recognition of natural sounds in 

musical effects. This, as everybody knows, is the basis of "pro- 
gram music," which deliberately imitates the clatter and cries 
of the market place, hoof-beats, clanging hammers, running 
brooks, nightingales and bells and the inevitable cuckoo. Such 
"sound-painting" is by no means modern; it goes back as far 
as the thirteenth century, when the cuckoo's note was intro- 
duced as a theme in the musical setting of "Summer is acu- 
men in." 29 An eighteenth-century critic says disapprovingly, 
"Our intermezzi ... are full of fantastic imitations and silly 
tricks. There one can hear clocks striking, ducks jabbering, 
frogs quacking, and pretty soon one will be able to hear fleas 
sneezing and grass growing." 30 But its early uses were frankly 
tricks, like Bach's fugue on the letters of his name, B-A-C-H 
(to a German, B[i-A-C-Bb). Only with the development of 
opera and oratorio, the orchestra was called upon to furnish 
sounds appropriate to certain scenes. In Haydn's Creation the 
prancing horses and sinuous worms merely furnish musical 
figures with technical possibilities, like the traditional cuckoos 
and cocks, but the waters over the earth are certainly used with 
the serious intent of building up a thought with the sound- 
effect. In Bach's Passion According to St. Matthew the orches- 
tra registers the rending of the temple curtain in the midst of 
an unmistakable musical storm. From this time onward, sound- 
painting increases until the romantic symphony may require 
a whole outfit of wooden rattles, cowbells, whistles, even 

^ Colin McAlpin, flrrmaia: A Study in Comparative Eslhelics (London and 
^■-ew York. 1915). Pee lii.s table of contents. 

» Cf. Richard .^Irlrich, Musical Discourse (London, 1928), p. 25. 

wj. A. Hiiller. "Abhandlung von der Nachahmung der Natur in der Musik," 
in Marprng's fjistorisch'kritiscke Beytriige sur Aujnahme der Musik^ 5 vols. (Berlin, 
1754-1760). See vol I, p. 532. 

soiii.d-recordings and a A ven't^b'e code of 
"everts" grew up, helped by the more and mere detailed ^^'^ 
indispensable program notes. Finally, as an emment New York 
Times critic says, "Strauss, in the heyday of his prc^rammatic 
frenzy, went so far as to declare that a day would come when 
a composer could compose the silverware on the fble so that 
the listener could distinguish the knives from the forks." ^'^ 
But not all conceptions of musical semantic were thus naive 
and literal. Side by side with the evolution of sound-painting 
runs the development of "dramatic" music in a more objective 
sense — music that is intended, and taken, to be a language of 
feelin? Not silverware, nor even parades and thunderstorms, 
are the '^biects of musical representation here, but love and 
loneing, hope and fear, the essence of tragedy and comedy. 
This is not "self-expression" ; it is exposition of feelings 
which may be attributed to persons on the stage or fictitious 
characters in a ballad. In pure instrumental music without 
dramat'c action, there may be a high emotional import which 
is not referred to any subiect, and the glib assurance of some 
program writers that this is the composer's protest against 
life, cry of despair, vision of his beloved, or what not, is a 
perfect'v unjustified fancy; for if music is really a language 
of emotion, it expresses primarily the composer's knowledge 
of human feeling, not how or when that knowledge was ac- 
quired; as his conversation presumably expresses his knowl- 
edge of more tangible things, and usu.allv not his first experi- 
ence of them. 

This is the most persistent, plausible, and interesting doc- 
trine of meaning in music, and has lent itself to considerable 
development; on the theoretical side by Kretschmar, E. v. 
Hartmann, more recently Schweitzer and Pirro, and on the 
practical side by Schumann, Wagner, Liszt, Berlioz (who have 
all left us theoretical statements as well), and many others. 
From Wagner I take what may be the most explicit rendering 
of the principle: 

"What music expresses, is eternal, infinite and ideal; it 
does not express the passion, love, or longing of such-and- 
such an individual on such-and-such an occasion, but passion, 
love or longing in itself, and this it presents in that unlimited 
variety of motivations, which is the exclusive and particular 

" Respighi's Thu Pines oj Rome leature^ a pbonograpli record of a nightingale's 
song; Strauss' Alfint Symphony calls for the "winrt-nachine. 
''Aldrich, up. tit., p. 15. 



characteristic of music, foreign and inexpressible to any other 

Despite the romantic phraseology, this passage states quite 
clearly that music is not self-expression, but formulation and 
representation of emotions, moods, mental tensions and reso- 
lutions — a "logical picture" of sentient, responsive life, a 
source of insight, not a plea for sympathy. Feelings revealed 
in music are essentially not "the passion, love or longing of 
such-and-such an individual," inviting us to put ourselves in 
that individual's place, but are presented directly to our under- 
standing, that we may grasp, realize, comprehend these feel- 
ings, without pretending to have them or imputing them to 
anyone else. Just as words can describe events we have not wit- 
nessed, places and things we have not seen, so music can pre- 
sent emotions and moods we have not felt, passions we did 
not know before. Its subject-matter is the same as that of "self- 
expression," and its symbols may even be borrowed, upon oc- 
casion, from the realm of expressive symptoms; yet the 
borrowed suggestive elements are formalized, and the subject- 
matter "distanced" in an artistic perspective. 

The notion of "psychical distance" as the hall-mark of 
every artistic "projection" of experience, which Edward Bui- 
lough has developed, does not make the emotive contents 
typical, general, impersonal, or "static"; but it makes them 
conceivable, so that we can envisage and understand them 
without verbal helps, and without the scaffolding of an occa- 
sion wherein they figure (as all self-expression implies an oc- 
casion, a cause— true or imaginary — forthe subject's temporary 
feelings) . A composer not only indicates, but articulates subtle 
complexes of feeling that language cannot even name, let 
alone set forth; he knows the forms of emotion and can 
handle them, "compose" them. We do not "compose" our 
exclamations and jitters. 

The actual opposition between the two emotive theories of 
musical meaning — that of self-expression and that of logi- 
cal expression — is best summed up by contrasting the passage 
from C. Ph. E. Bach, already quoted on page 174, to the effect 
that "a musician cannot otherwise move people, but he be 
moved himself," and always "conveys his feelings to them, 
and thus most readily moves them to sympathetic emotion," 
with Busoni's statement: 

"Just as an artist, if he is to move his audience, must never 

*3 Richard Wagner, *'Eiii plu^klicher Abend," reprinted by Gatz, in Musik- 
Aesthetik, from the Gazette Musicale, nos. 56-58 (1841). 

be moved himself — lest he lose, at that moment, his mastery 
over the material — so the auditor who wants to get the full 
operatic effect must never regard it as real, if his artistic ap- 
preciation is not to be degraded to mere human sympathy." 34 

This degradation is what Bullough would call a loss of 
"psychical distance." It is, in fact, a confusion between a sym- 
bol, which lets us conceive its object, and a sign, which causes 
us to deal with what it means. 

"Distance . > . is obtained by separating the object and its 
appeal from one's own self, by putting it out of gear with 
practical needs and ends. But . . . distance does not imply an 
impersonal, purely intellectually interested relation. ... On 
the contrary, it describes a personal relation, often highly emo- 
tionally colored, but of a peculiar character. Its peculiarity lies 
in that the personal character of the relation has been, so to 
speak, filtered. It has been cleared of the practical, concrete 
nature of its appeal. . . 

The content has been symbolized for us, and what it invites 
is not emotional response, but insight. "Psychical Distance" 
is simply the experience of apprehending through a symbol 
what was not articulated before. The content of art is always 
real; the mode of its presentation, whereby it is at once re- 
vealed and "distanced," may be a fiction. It may also be music, 
or, as in the dance, motion. But if the content be the life of 
feeling, impulse, passion, then the symbols which reveal it 
will not be the sounds or actions that normally would express 
this life; not associated signs, but symbolic forms must convey 
it to our understanding. 

Very few writers who assign significance of any sort to 
music have kept these several kinds of meaning strictly apart. 
Literal meanings — the renderings of birds and bells and 
thunder and the Twentieth Century Limited by orchestral in- 
struments — are usually mixed up in a vague way with emotive 
meanings, which they are supposed to support, or even to in- 
spire by suggestion. And emotions, in turn, are treated now as 
effects, now as causes, now as contents of so-called "emotive 
music." Even in Wagner, who stated explicitly the abstractive, 
generalizing function of music in depicting feelings, there is 
plenty of confusion. In describing his own furor poetkus he 
presents himself as expressing his personal sentiments and up- 
heavals. In O per und Drama he says that operatic music must 
express the sentiments of the speaker and actor {"des Reden- 

"Busoni, Entwurf etxer neuen Aestketik der Tonkunst, here quoted fromGatz, 
op. cU., p. 498. 

* Bullough, "Psychical Distance," p. 91. 


den unci Darstellenden," not ''des redend Dargestellten") .^^ 
Yet it is perfectly clear that the "poetic intention" ("die 
dkhterische Absicht") which is the raison d'etre of the work 
is not to give the actors self-expression, nor the audience an 
emotional orgy, but is to put over, to make conceivable, a great 
insight into human passional nature. And again, in the same 
work, he refers to the tragic fate of Beethoven as an inability 
to communicate his private feelings, his sufferings, to the curi- 
ous but unmoved listener who could not understand him.^^ 

So it was that, when Hanslick wrote his famous little book 
Vom Musikalisch-Schonen, which attempted to blast the grow- 
ing romantic conception of a "language of music," he found 
himself called upon to combat not only the use of onomato- 
poeia, the hoofbeats of Wagner's riding Valkyries and the 
thunder-peals that announce the wreck of the Flying Dutch- 
man, but also the production, exhibition, or symbolic repre- 
sentation of emotions — the moan and tremolo of the orches- 
tra, the surging outbursts of Tristan and Isolde. Against all 
these alleged "expressive functions" of music the great purist 
mustered his arguments. Vehemently he declared that music 
conveys no meanings whatever, that the content of music is 
nothing but dynamic sound-patterns {"tonend hewegte 
Formen") and that "the theme of a musical composition is 
its proper content." But especially the true Wagnerian aim 
— the semantic use of music, the representation of emotive life 
— aroused his opposition. 

"It is no mere fencing with words," he declares at the very 
outset, "to protest most emphatically against the notion of 
'representation,' because this notion has given rise to the great- 
est errors of musical aesthetics. To 'represent' something al- 
ways involves the conception (Vorstellung) of two separate, 
distinct things, one of which must first be given, by a specific 
act, an explicit relation of reference to the other." Music, in 
his estimation, can never be used in this degrading fashion. 

His statement of the conditions for representation can, of 
course, be challenged in the light of a better knowledge of 
symbolism. What he says apphes generally to literal, especially 
to scientific, expression; but it is not true of some other modes, 
which serve rather to formulate knowledge than to communi- 
cate its finished products. Yet there is justice in his protest, 
too; for the claim of his adversaries to a language of music 

'* Here quoted from Gatz^ op^ cit., p. 166. 
* Hanslick, Vom Musikaliscft-Schdnen^ p. 45. 
*^lbid., introd., p. viii. 

»' Ibid., p. 172. 
"Ibid^p. 136. 



is indeed a misleading one, which may well do mischief among 
musicians and audiences alike. 

Those claims, just like Hanslick's counter-claims, invite logi- 
cal criticism. So, instead of wrangling over this or that alleged 
"meaning," let us look at music from the purely logical stand- 
point as a possible symbolic form of some sort. As such it 
would have to have, first of all, formal characteristics which 
were analogous to whatever it purported to symbohze; that is 
to say, if it represented anything, e.g. an event, a passion, a 
dramatic action, it would have to exhibit a logical jorm'which 
that object could also take. Everything we conceive is con- 
ceived in some form, though there are alternative forms for 
every content; but the musical figure which we recognize as 
such must be a figuration under which we could apprehend the 
thing referred to. 

That musical structures logically resemble certain dynamic 
patterns of human experience is a well-established fact. Even 
Hanslick admitted as much, perhaps with less scientific back- 
ing than our modern theorists can claim; for what in his day 
was a psychological assumption for the sake of musical under- 
standing, has become, in ours, a psychological doctrine aptly 
illustrated by musical examples. Wolfgang Kohler, the great 
pioneer of Gestalt psychology, remarks the usefulness of so- 
called musical "dynamics" to describe the forms of mental life. 
"Quite generally," he says, "the inner processes, whether emo- 
tional or intelectual, show types of development which may 
be given names, usually applied to musical events, such as: 
crescendo and diminuendo, accelerando and ritardando." He 
carries these convenient terms over into the description of 
overt behavior, the reflection of inner life in physical attitudes 
and gestures. "As these qualities occur in the world of acous- 
tical experiences, they are found in the visual world too, and 
so they can express similar dynamical traits of inner life in 
directly observable activity. ... To the increasing inner tempo 
and dynamical level there corresponds a crescendo and acce- 
lerando in visible movement. Of course, the same inner devel- 
opment may express itself acoustically, as in the accelerando 
and reforzando of speech. . . . Hesitation and lack of inner 
determination become visible ... as ritardando of visible or 
audible behavior. . . 

This is just the inverse of Jean D'Udine's description of 
music, which treats it as a kind of gesture, a tonal projection 
of the forms of feeling, more directly reflected in the mimic 

•■ Kohler, Cr-.t,ilt rsycltn!of'-.pp. 24Si'3i" 



"dance" of the orchestral conductor. "All the expressive ges- 
ticulations of the conductor," says that provocative and read- 
able book, L'art et le geste, "is really a dance ... all music is 
dancing. . . . All melody is a series of attitudes."*^ And again: 
"Every feeling contributes, in effect, certain special gestures 
which reveal to us, bit by bit, the essential characteristic of 
Life: movement. . . . All living creatures are constantly con- 
summating their own internal rhythm." This rhythm, the es- 
sence of life, is the steady background against which we ex- 
perience the special articulations produced by feeling; "and 
even the most uneventful life exhibits some such breaks in its 
rhythm, sources of joys and sorrows without which we would 
be as inert as the pebbles of the highway." And these 
rhythms are the prototypes of musical structures, for all art is 
but a projection of them from one domain of sense to another, 
a symbolic transformation. "Every artist is a transformer; all 
artistic creation is but a transmutation." 

Just as Kohler uses the language of musical dynamics to ex- 
press psychological phenomena, on the basis of their formal an- 
aloay. so D'Udine makes movement the prototype of vital forms 
and thus reduces all the arts to "a kind of dance" (this analogy 
with life-functions, both lower and higher, was made long 
ago by Havelock Ellis in The Dance of Life) : and so the musi- 
cologist von Hoeslin hkens dance, plastic art, thought, and 
feeling to music by reason of that same analogy. The funda- 
mental relationships in music, he says, are tensions and reso- 
lutions; and the patterns generated by these functions are the 
patterns exemplified in all art, and also in all emotive re- 
sponses. Wherever sheer contrasts of ideas produce a reaction, 
wherever experiences of pure form produce mental tension, 
we have the essence of melody x and so he speaks of Sprach- 
melodien in poetry and Gedankenmelodien in life.*^ More 
naturalistically inclined critics often mediate the comparison 
between the forms of music and those of feeling, by assuming 
that music exhibits patterns of excitation occurring in the 
nervous tissues, which are the physical sources of emotion 
but it really all comes to the same thing. The upshot of all 
these speculations and researches is, that there are certain 

"Jean D'Udine, (A. Cozanet) L'art et le geste (Paris, 1910), p. xiv. 
" Ib'd.. p. 6. »* Ibid., p. icii. 

J- K. V. Hoeslin, Die Melodie als ^estaitender Ausdruck seelischen Lebcns 
(Leipzig. 1920). 

Both Kohler and Koffka subscribe to this notion of the "physiological pic- 
lure," of which we see, according to them, not some estern-'t duplicate, but the 
actual outw.-ird aspects of a total bodily slate or activity. The same standpoint 
was akeady defined by C. Beauquier in his PhUosofkii; dt h musique in Palis in 
1865, and by subsequent authors too numerous to cite. 


aspects of the so-called "inner life" — physical or mental — 
which have formal properties similar to those of music— pat- 
terns of motion and rest, of tension and release, of agreement 
and disagreement, preparation, fulfilment, excitation, sudden 
change, etc. 

So the first requirement for a connotative relationship be- 
tween music and subjective experience, a certain similarity of 
logical form, is certainly satisfied. Furthermore, there is no 
doubt that musical forms have certain properties to recom- 
mend them for symbolic use: they are composed of many 
separable items, easily produced, and easily combined in a 
great variety of ways; in themselves they play no important 
practical role which would overshadow their semantic func- 
tion; they are readily distinguished, remembered, and re- 
peated ; and finally, they have a remarkable tendency to modify 
each other's characters in combination, as words do, by all 
serving each as a context,*'^ The purely structural requirements 
for a symbolism are satisfied by the peculiar tonal phenomenon 
we call "music." 

Yet it is not, logically speaking, a language, for it has no 
vocabulary. To call the tones of a scale its "words," harmony 
its "grammar," and thematic development its "syntax," is a 
useless allegory, for tones lack the very thing that distinguishes 
a word from a mere vocable: fixed connotation, or "dictionary 
meaning." Moreover, a tone has many aspects that enter into 
the notion of musical significance, but not of harmony. These 
aspects have been minutely and seriously studied from a psy- 
chological standpoint, in ways that fairly well exclude non- 
musical factors such as personal associations with tunes, instru- 
ments, styles (e.g. church music, military music) , or program- 
matic suggestions. In a remarkably able and careful work,*® 
Dr. Kurt Huber has traced the successive emergence of ex- 
pressive factors in the apprehension of the simplest possible 
tonal patterns — bare pitch-patterns of two or three tones. 

*^ A. Gehring carried this principle of contextual function even beyond the 
compass of the individual composition. ''Unrelated compositions," he said, ''will 
affect one another as inevitably as those which are related. The whole realm of 
music may be regarded as a single huge composition, in which every note that is 
written exerts its influence throughout the whole domain of tones. To speak with 
Guyau, . , . it changes the very conditions of beauty. 

"This explains the different effects produced by the same composition at different 
times. The harmonies which sound novel today will be familiar in a few decades; 
the volume and richness of sound which pleased our ancestors are inadequate 
today." (The Basis of Musical Pleasure [New York, 1910], p. 34.) 

Gehring's observation bears out the similarity with language, where every word 
that is used even in a narrow context contributes its meaning, as there established, 
to the living and growing language. „. . , , , , 

« Der Ausdruck musikalischer Elementarmotive. Etne expermental-psyclto- 
logische Untersuchung (\923). 



stripped of all contextual elements of timbre, rhythm, volume, 
etc., by their uniform production on an electrical instrument, 
in timed succession and equal strength. The subjects were in- 
structed to describe their experiences in any terms they chose: 
by their qualities, relations, meanings, emotional characters, 
somatic effects, associations, suggestions, or what-not. They 
were asked to report any images or memories evoked, or, fail- 
ing such experiences, simply to convey their impressions as 
best they could. This form of experiment is certainly much 
more controlled and decisive than the Schoen and Gatewood 
questionnaires on the influence of musical selections; and the 
results of Huber's experiments, which might be expected to 
be poorer, by reason of the simplicity of the material and lack 
of specific instructions, are actually much more significant and 
more capable of systematic arrangement than the emotive- 
value statistics. They may be briefly summarized as follows: 

(1) The lowest stage of tone-apprehension yields merely 
an imoression of tone-color of the whole tonal comolex, or 
of a difference between tone-colors of the separate tones. 

(2) Meanings conveyed by such a mere impression of 
tonal brightness always involve states or qualities or their 
changes, i.e. passive changes. Imagination of an event does 
not occur without an impression of tonal movement. 

(3) The most primitive factor in the perception of tonal 
movement is a sense of its direction. This, according to the 
author, "constitutes the point of deoarture of that psvcho- 
loxrical symbolism of figiHes (psychische Gestaltsymbolik) 
wh<'ch we encounter in the tendency to relate musical mo- 
tives to sentiments." 

(4) The apprehension of a width of tonal intervals is 
independent of this sense of direction; and "all spatial sym- 
bolism in the interpretation of motives has its roots in this 
impression of inter-tonal distance." 

(5) The idea of a musical step requires a joint percep- 
tion of tonal distance and direction. "We are not saying too 
much if we make all the higher psychical interpretation 
directly dependent on the grasping of interval-forms, or at 
least view them as mediately related to these." 

(6) Impressions of consonance, dissonance and related- 
ness {Zusammengehdrigkeit) require the notion of a musi- 
cal step, or progression (simultaneous tones were not given ; 
the inquiry rested on melodic elements) . 

(7) Tones taken as related may then be referred to a 
tonic, either chosen among them or "understood," i.e. 



imaginatively supplied by the auditor (this orientation 
is most forcibly suggested by the perfect fourth, e.g. 

, which connotes almost irresistibly the setting: 

(8) Reference to a tonic determines the feeling of modal- 
ity; for instance, ^ -^—J— : connotes a different modal- 

ity if taken as 

from what it would as 

(9) A subject accent may simply fall upon the tone 
which is harmonically more important as the hearer has 
organized the interval; it may, but need not, suggest a 
rhythmic structure. 

(10) Subjective rhythmatization, when it occurs, is built 
upon mental accentuation. 

Since such mental accentuation may occur wilhoul any 
actual emphasis (as in these experiments it necessarily did), 
the problem of rhythm in music as we know it is immensely 
complicated, and cannot be solved by mere reference to the 
drum and footfall of dancing hordes. In fact, Huber distin- 
guishes between such purely temporal measure, and "musical 
rhythm," which latter results from the internal, tonal organ- 
ization of the motif.*" 

The entire study shows effectively how many factors of 
possible expressive virtue are involved in even the simplest 
musical structure, how many things beside the acknowledged 
materials of composition have crucial functions in conveying 
a musical message. One may argue that voice-inflections enter 

"So it appears," he says, "upon this view (which is shared, incidentally, by 
Ohmann) that musical rhythm, in contrast with the mere temporal rhythm of 
measures, grows out of the inner Ge5/«/^-relations of the motif itself," (Ihid.r p. 
179.) This conclusion corroborates by scientific evidence the doctrines of Heinrich 
Schenker concerninti; meter and rhythm, namely that rhythm is a function of 
tonal motion, not of time-division; such motion depends as much on melodic and 
harmonic tension and direction as on tempo. (See Schenker 's Neue musikalische 
theorien und Phantasien, 3 vols. [Stuttgart, 1935], esp. vol. Ill, DPT Ireie Sats, 
ch. lii, pp. 191-206.) 



into the "expressiveness" of speech, too; but the fact is that 
the verbal message may be understood apart from these. They 
do not alter the content of a statement, which is uniquely de- 
termined by vocabulary and syntax, but at most they may affect 
one's reaction to the statement. Musical semantic factors, how- 
ever, have never been isolated ; even the efforts of Schweitzer 
and Pirro to trace the "emotional vocabulary" of Bach by 
correlating musical figures with the words he usually sets to 
them, interesting though they are, show us certain associations 
in Bach's mind, perhaps also accepted conventions of his day 
or his school, rather than musical laws of expression. Such 
precise interpretations of separate figures are inconclusive be- 
cause, as Huber remarked in his direct psychological study, 
"It is impossible to determine the absolute expressive value of 
separate intervals (third, fifth, etc.) because their absolute 
pitch affects the brightness of their constituents and therewith 
their qualities of contrast, apprehensibility, etc." That there 
are tonal figures derived from natural rhythms, that upward 
and downward direction, pendular motion, etc., may be musi- 
cally "imitated," that melodic lines may suegest sobs, whim- 
pers, or yodelers, need not be reiterated here; such general 
classifications'* do not give us a vocabulary of music; and 
even if we accept the more ambitious dictionary of Schweitzer 
or Pirro, what is usually called the "grammar" of music, i.e. 
harmony, does not recognize such "words" as elements at all. 
The analogy between music and language breaks down if we 
carry it beyond the mere semantic function in general, which 
they are supposed to share.^* Logically, music has not the 
characteristic properties of language — separable terms with 
fixed connotations, and syntactical rules for deriving complex 
connotations without any loss to the constituent elements. 
Apart from a few onomatopoetic themes that have become 
conventional — the cuckoo, the bugle-calls, and possibly the 
church-bell — music has no literal meaning. 

Yet it may be a presentational symbol, and present emotive 
experience through global forms that are indivisible as the 
elements of chiaroscuro. This view has indeed been sug- 
gested. •''^ But it seems peculiarly hard for our literal minds to 

» Albert Schweitzer, /, S. Bach, le musicien-potte (2nd ed. Leipzig, 1905). 
AnHr^ Pirro, L'esthdtique de Jean-Sebastien Bach (Paris. 1907). 

*^ Huher, Der Ansdruck musikaUsc/ierEle^entarmotive (Leipzig. 1923), p. 182. 

5' A perfect example may be found in E. Sorantin's The Problem of Musical 
Expression O'ashvilie Tenn.: Marshall & Bruce Co., 1932). 

" Cf, Siegfried F. Nadel, Der duale Sinn der Musit (Ratisbon, 1931), p. 78. 

w C/. Julius Bittner, "Die Grenzen des Komponierbaren," Der Merker, II 
(1910), part I, pp. 11-14. 


grasp the idea that anything can be known which cannot be 
named. Therefore philosophers and critics have repeatedly 
denied the musical symbolization of emotion on the ground 
that, as Paul Moos puts it, "Pure instrumental music is unable 
to render even the most ordinary feelings, such as love, loyalty, 
ox anger, unambiguously and distinctly, by its own unaided 
powers." Or Heinrich, in the same vein: "There are many 
musical works of high artistic value, that completely baffle us 
when we try to denote by one word the mood they are sup- 
posed to convey. This alone suffices to make the conception of 
music as a sentimental art, or an art of expressing sentiments, 
quite untenable." And A. Gehring, pointing out that one 
cannot prove every musical phrase or figure to mean some 
nameable feeling, memory, or idea, declares, "Until this is 
done, we must deny that symbolization accounts for the essen- 
tial charm of the art." 

But this is a fallacy, based on the assumptions that the 
rubrics established by language are absolute, so that any other 
semantic must make the same distinctions as discursive thought, 
and individualize the same "things," "aspects," "events," and 
"emotions." What is here criticized as a weakness, is really 
the strength of musical expressiveness: that music articulates 
forms which language cannot set forth. The classifications 
which language makes automatically preclude many relations, 
and many of those resting-points of thought which we call 
"terms." It is just because music has not the same terminology 
and pattern, that it lends itself to the revelation of non-scien- 
tific concepts. To render "the most ordinary feelinsjs, such as 
love, loyalty or anger, unambiguously and distinctly," would 
be merely to duplicate what verbal appellations do well 

I cannot agree, therefore, with Professor Urban's statement: 
"It is true that there are other symbols than those of lan- 
guage, namely, the symbols of art and mathematics, by means 
of which meanings may be communicated. But these symbols 
themselves require interpretation, and interpretation is only 
possible in terms of language." 5* His very combination of art 
and mathematics seems to me to bespeak a misunderstanding; 
for mathematics is discursive and literal, a specialized and ab- 
breviated language. It appeals essentially to the eye, and is 

"Paul Moos, Die PhilaopMe der MuHk (Stuttcart, 1922), p. 297. 
" F Heinrich "Die Tonkunst in ihmm Verhaltnis 2um Au.sdruck und zum 
5ymM" Ze.itschrijt fur ifusikwissenschaft, YlII (1925-26), 66-92. Seep. 75. 
"The Basis of Muticat Pleasure, p. 90. 
W. M. Urban, Latiguase and Reality, p. 5S. 



therefore most easily "done on paper," but all its symbols have 

pressed as "the square root of rf-plus-^, over c to the m-plus- 
nth power." This is not a non-linguistic symbolism; it is merely 
a highly technical jargon, and the teaching of mathematics is 
its interpretation to the uninitiate. But in art such interpreta- 
tion is vicious, because art — certainly music, and probably all 
art — is formally and essentially untranslatable; and I cannot 
agree that "interpretation of poetry is the determination of 
what poetry says. . . . One of the essential functions of the 
teaching of literature is its interpretation. . . . Now a character 
of such interpretation is that it is always carried out in non- 
poetic terms or in less poetic terms than the thing inter- 
preted." ^ Evidently Professor Urban would extend this sort 
of explanation even to music, for he says elsewhere: "Even in 
such non-linguistic arts as music or pure design, where the 
element of assertion is apparently absent, it is, I should hold, 
only apparently so." 

In that case, of course. Moos and Heinrich and Gehring are 
justified in denying "emotive" meanings to music on the 
ground that no propositions about feelings can be assigned, 
with any confidence, as the contents of its forms. But it seems 
to me that truth rests rather with another statement of Urban's, 
which is hard to reconcile with his prevailing, explicit views 
about the primacy and supremacy of language: "The poet . . . 
does well to speak in figure, to keep to his own symbolic form. 
For precisely in that symbolic form an aspect of reality is given 
which cannot be adequately expressed otherwise. It is not true 
that whatever can be expressed symbolically can be better ex- 
pressed literally. For there is no literal expression, but only 
another kind of symbol." *^ 

For the musician, this other kind of symbol is not con- 
stantly obscured by something that is said; wherefore musi- 
cians have grasped its character and importance more clearly 
than literary critics. If music is a symbolism, it is essentially of 
this untranslatable form. That is the gist of Wagner's descrip- 
tion of the "orchestral language." Since this "language" has 
no conventional words, it can never appeal to discursive reason. 
But it expresses "just what is unspeakable in verbal language, 

" im., pp. 487-488. " Ibid., p. 478. 

Ibid., p. 500. Oddly enough, this same passage concludes with the words: 
"But when all is said and done, it remains true that poetry is covert metaphysics, 
and it is only when its implications, critically interpreted and adequately expressed, 
become part of philosophy that an adequate view of the world can be achieved." 
What is this critical and adeauatp exnression. if not literal interpretation? 

names; a complex like 

may always be verbally ex- 


and what, viewed from our rationalistic {verstandesmensch- 
licheny standpoint, may tlierefore be called simply the Un- 
speakable. "61 

Because the forms of human feeling are much more con- 
gruent with musical forms than with the forms of laneuage 
music can reveal the nature of feelings with a detail ana truth 
that language cannot approach. This peculiar articulateness of 
music as a semantic of vital and emotional facts was discovered 
nearly two centuries ago by one of the contributors to Mar- 
pure's famous Beitrage zur Musik, This writer (the same 
Hiiller who objected to ducks and sneezing fleas in "modern 
music") says: 

"There are feelings . . . which are so constantly suppressed 
by the tumult of our passions, that they can reveal themselves 
but timidly, and are practically unknown to us. ... Note, 
however, what response a certain kind of music evokes in our 
hearts: we are attentive, it is charming; it does not aim to 
arouse either sorrow or joy, pity or anger, and yet we are 
moved by it. We are so imperceptibly, so gently moved, that 
we do not know we are affected, or rather, that we can give 
no name to the ajfect, . . . 

"Indeed, it is quite impossible to rmme everything fascinat- 
ing in music, and bring it under definite headings. Therefore 
music has fulfilled its mission whenever our hearts are satis- 

Since the day when this was written, many musicolo^^ists — 
notably Vischer, Riemann, and Kurth — have emphasized the 
faiposs'b'lty of interpreting the "language of feeling," al- 
though they admit its function to be, somehow, a revelation 
of emotions, moods, or subtle nameless affects. Liszt warned 
specifically against the practice of expounding the emotive 
content of a symphonic poem, "because in such case the words 
tend to destroy the magic, to desecrate the feelings, and to 
break the most delicate fabrics of the soul, which had taken 
this form just because they were incapable of formulation in 
words, images or ideas." 

But there are musicians for whom it is not enough to recog- 
nize the ineffable character of musical significance; they must 
remove their art from the realm of meaning altogether. They 
cannot entertain the idea that music expresses anything in any 
way. The oddest thing about this perfectly legitimate problem 

^Opprund Drama. See Gatz. Musik-Aestketik p. 192. . 

"Hiiller. "Abh.-ndlung von derxachahmung der N'atur in de ttsit, pp. 515 
an ?,? iMiirs mine. , . • , i , * 

Franz Lbzt. "Berlioz und seine Harold-Symphonie, repr.iited by ijatz from 
Liszt's Ccssmmelte Sckriften.See Gatz, op. cit., p. 127. 



of musical meaning is that it seems impossible for people to 
discuss it with anything like detachment or candor. It is almost 
like a religious issue; only that in matters of faith the propo- 
nents of a doctrine are usually the vehement believers, the 
passionate defenders, whereas in this musicological argument 
it is apt to be the non-believers, the scoffers and critics, who 
are most emotional about it. Those who deny that music is a 
language of feelings do not simply reject the symbolistic theory 
as unconvincing or indemonstrable; they are not content to 
say that they cannot find the alleged meaning in music, and 
therefore consider the hypothesis far-fetched; no, they reject 
with horror the very attempt to construe music as a semantic, 
they regard the imputation of any meaning — emotional or 
other — as an insult to the Muse, a degradation of the pure 
dynamic forms, an invidious heresy. They seem to feel that if 
musical structures should really be found to have significance, 
to relate to anything beyond themselves, those structures would 
forthwith cease to be musical. The dignity of music demands 
that it should be autonomous; its existence should have no ex- 
planation. To add "meaning" to its sensuous virtues is worse 
than to deny it any virtue — it is, somehow, to destroy its life.^® 
Yet the most vehement critics of the emotive-content theory 
seem to have caught a germ from the doctrine they attacked: 
in denying the very possibility of any content of music, they 
have fallen into the way of thinking about it in terms of form 
and content. They are suddenly faced with the dichotomy: 
significant or meaningless. And while they fiercely repudiate 
the proposition that music is a semantic, they cannot assert 
that it is meaningless. It is the problem, not the doctrine, that 
has infected them. Consequently they try to eat their cake and 
have it too, by a logical trick that is usually accepted only 
among mathematicians — by a statement which has the form of 
an answer to the question in hand, and really commits them 
to nothing. Musical form, they reply, is its own content; its 
means itself. This evasion was suggested by Hanslick when 
he said, "The theme of a musical composition is its essential 
content." He knew that this was an evasion; but his suc- 

™ The importance of this conflict was recognized by Dr. Wierling, who says: 
"The great reaction which Hanslick evoked with his book shows by its harshness 
that here was no contest of opinions, but a conflict of forces like that of dogma 
against heresy. . . . The reaction against Hanslick was that of persons attacked 
in their holiest convictions." (Das Tonkunstwerk als autonome Cestatt und ah 
Ausdruck der Personlichkeit [Wiirzburg, 1931], pp. 24-25.) Exactly the same spirit 
was certainly evinced by Hanslick himself, who repulsed what he considered not 
a mere error, but a pernicious doctrine. 

'^'^ See Hanslick, op. lit., p. 133: "In the art of music there is no content 
opposed to form, because music has no form over and above its content." This is 
an effectual repudiation of the form-and-content dichotomy, a rejection of the 
problem, not of its answers. 



cessars have found it harder and harder to resist the question 
of content, and the silly fiction of self-significance has been 
raised to the dignity of a doctrine.'"* It is really just a talisman 
against any and every assignment of specific content to music; 
and as such it will presently appear justified. 

Whenever people vehemently reject a proposition, they do 
so not because it simply does not recommend itself, but because 
it does, and yet its acceptance threatens to hamper their think- 
ing in some important way. If they are unable to define the 
exact mischief it would do, they just call it "degrading," "ma- 
terialistic," "pernicious," or any other bad name. Their judg- 
ment may be fuzzy, but the intuition they are trying to rational- 
ize is right; to accept the opponent's proposition as it stands, 
would lead to unhappy consequences. 

So it is with "significant form" in music: to tie any tonal 
structure to a specific and speakable meaning would limit mu- 
sical imagination, and probably substitute a preoccupation 
with feelings for a whole-hearted attention to music. "An in- 
ward singing," says Hanslick, "and not an inward feeling, 
prompts a gifted person to compose a musical piece." There- 
fore it does not matter what feelings are afterward attributed 
to it, or to him; his responsibility is only to articulate the 
"dynamic tonal form." 

It is a peculiar fact that some musical forms seem to bear a 
sad and a happy interpretation equally well. At first sight that 
looks paradoxical ; but it really has perfectly good reasons, 
which do not invalidate the notion of emotive significance, but 
do bear out the right-mindedness of thinkers who recoil from 
the admission of specific meanings. For what music can actu- 
ally reflect is only the morphology of feeling; and it is quite 
plaus'ble that some sad and some happy conditions may have 
a very similar morphology. This insight has led some philo- 
sophical musicologists to suppose that music conveys general 
forms of feeling, related to specific ones as algebraic expres- 
sions *rc related to arithmetic; a doctrine put forward by Mor- 
itz Hauptmann and also by Moritz Carriere.'^'^ These two ex- 
cellent thinkers saw in music what most aestheticians failed 
to see — its intellectual value, its close relation to concepts, not 
by reason of its difficult academic "laws," but in virtue of its 
revelations. If it reveals the rationale of feelings, the rhythm 

•■See. e.g., E. J. Dent, Terpande.r: or, the Made of !>!•• Future (New York: 
E. P. Dtrttn & Co., 19271. p. 12; Carroll C. Pratt, the Meaning of Musk (^'ew 
York: M'Gr w-Hill Book Co.. 1931). p. 237; and F. Heinrich, "Die Tonkunst in 
ihrem Verh Itnis zum Ausflruck und zum Symbol," p. 67. ., . . 

»• Op. cit, p. 75. '» Die Saturder Barmonik und Mftrik (Leipzig, I8j3). 

Aesthelik, 2 volfi. (Leipzig. 1839). 



and pattern of their rise and decline and intertwining, to our 
minds, then it is a force in our mental life, our awareness and 
understanding, and not only our affective experience. 

Even Hanslick granted this logical analogy between music 
and emotions ; ''^ but he did not realize how much he had 
granted. Because he considered nothing but conventional de- 
notation as "meaning," he insisted that music could not mean 
anything. Every mathematician knows how hard it is to con- 
vince the naive beginner in algebra that its letters have any 
mearung, if they are not given specific denotations: "Let («=5, 
let h=10," etc. Presently the novice learns that it makes no 
difference to the validity of the equation how the meanings of 
terms have been assigned; then he understands the generality 
of the symbolism. It is only when he sees the balance of the 
equation as a form in itself, apart from all its possible arith- 
metical instances, that he grasps the abstraction, the real con- 
cept expressed through the formula. 

Algebraic letters are pure symbols; we see numerical rela- 
tionships not in them, but through them; they have the high- 
est'*"transparency" that language can attain. In likening music 
to such a symbolism, Hauptmann and Carriere claimed for it 
that peculiar "significance" that belongs to abstractions — a gen- 
eral reference to the realm of reality from which the form is 
abstracted, a reflection of the laws of that realm, a "logical 
picture" into which all instances must fit, yet not a "picture" 
of any actual instance. 

But this explanation of musk as a high abstraction, and 
musical experience as a purely logical revelation, does not do 
justice to the unmistakably sensuous value of tone, the vital 
nature of its effect, the sense of personal import which we 
meet in a great composition every time it is repeated to us. Its 
message is not an immutable abstraction, a bare, unambiguous, 
fixed concept, as a lesson in the higher mathematics of feeling 
should be. It is always new, no matter how well or how long 
we have known it, or it loses its meaning; it is not transparent 
but iridescent. Its values crowd each other, its symbols are in- 

The fact is, I think, that Hanslick, who admitted only the 
formal similarity of music and emotive experience but denied 
the legitimacy of any further interpretation, and those authors 
who realized that formality, but took it for the nature of musi- 
cal meanings rather than of musical symbols, were very close 
to a correct analysis. For music has all the earmarks of a true 

'•" Op. cit., p. 26. 



symbolism, except one: the existence of an assigned connota- 
tion. It is a form that is capable of connotation, and the mean- 
ings to which it is amenable are articulations of emotive, vital, 
sentient experiences. But its import is never fixed. In music 

we work essentially with free forms, following inherent psy- 
chological laws of "rightness," and take interest in possible 
articulations suggested entirely by the musical material. We 
are elaborating a symbolism of such vitality that it harbors a 
principle of development in its own elementary forms, as a 
really good symbolism is apt to do — as language has "Unguis- 
tic laws" whereby words naturally give rise to cognates, sen- 
tence-structures to subordinate forms, indirect discourse to 
subjunctive constructions "by attraction," noun-inflections to 
inflections of their modifiers "by agreement." No conscious in- 
tellectual intent determines vowel changes, inflections, or idi- 
oms; the force of what has been called "linguistic feeling" or 
a "sense of words" — "the Spirit of Language," as Vossler says 
— develops the forms of speech. To make up a language upon 
a preconception of what it is to express never leads to a real 
language, because language grows in meaning by a process of 
articulation, not in articulate forms by a process of precon- 
ceived expression. 

What is true of language, is essential in music: music that is 
invented while the composer's mind is fixed on what is to be 
expressed is apt not to be music. It is a limited idiom, like an 
artificial language, only even less successful ; for music at its 
highest, though clearly a symbolic form, is an unconsum- 
mated symbol. Articulation is its life, but not assertion; ex- 
pressiveness, not expression. The actual function of meaning, 
which calls for permanent contents, is not fulfilled; for the 
assignment of one rather than another possible meaning to 
each form is never explicitly made. Therefore music is "Sig- 
nificant Form," in the peculiar sense of "significant" which 
Mr. Bell and Mr. Fry maintain they can grasp, or feel, but not 
define; such significance is implicit, but not conventionally 

The fact that in music we have an unconsummated symbol, 
a significant form without conventional significance, casts 
some light on all the obscure conflicting judgments that the 
rise of program music has evoked. The expression of an idea 
in a symbolic mode may be successful or unsuccessful; easy 
and adequate, or halting, askew, inexact. Ordinarily we have 
no precise "logical picture" of affects at all; but we refer to 
them, chiefly by the indirect method of describing their causes 



or their effects. We say we feel "stunned," "left out," 
"moved," or "like swearing," "like running away." A mood 
can be described only by the situation that might give rise to 
it: there is the mood of "sunset and evening star," the mood of 
a village festival, or of a Vienna soiree. If, now, a composer's 
musical idiom is not so rich and definite that its tonal forms 
alone are perfectly coherent, significant, and satisfying, it is 
the most natural thing in the world that he should supplement 
them by the usual, non-musical ways of expressing ideas of 
feeling to ourselves and others; by envisaging situations, ob- 
jects, or events that hold a mood or specify an emotion. He 
may use a mental picture merely as a scaffolding to organize 
his otherwise musical conception. Schumann tells of occasions 
when he or another composer had envisaged a scene or a being 
so that the vision directly inspired a coherent, well -wrought 
musical work.'^s Sometimes the mere suggestion of what Huber 
calls a "sphere," e.g. "a medieval realm," "a fairy world," "a 
heroic setting," effected by one title-word such as "Schehera- 
zade" or "Oberon," serves to crystallize a shifting and drifting 
musical theme into artistic form. Sometimes a composer sets 
himself an elaborate program and follows it as he might a 
libretto or a choreographer's book. It is true, and natural 
enoueh. that this latter practice produces a less perfect musical 
expression than purely thematic thinking, for it is not single- 
minded; not everything relevant is contained in the music: and 
there is nothing in the work to force the composer's helpful 
fancies on the listener. Nothing can constrain us to think of 
Till Eulenspiesel's escapades while listening to music. 

But similarly, nothing can prevent our falling back on 
mental pictures, fantasies, memories, or having a Spharener- 
lebnis of some sort, when we cannot directly make subjective 
sense out of music in playing or hearing it. A program is 
simply a crutch. It is a resort to the crude but familiar method 
of holding feelings in the imagination by envisaging their at- 
tendant circumstances. It does not mean that the listener is un- 
musical, but merely that he is not musical enough to think in 
entirely musical terms. He is like a person who understands a 
foreign language, but thinks in his mother tongue the minute 
an intellectual difficulty confronts him. 

To a person of limited musical sense, such ideation seems 
the most valuable response to music, the "subjective content" 
which the listener must supply. People of this persuasion often 

Robert Schumann on Berlioz* Svmphonie Fantasti<jue, reprinted by Gatz from 
GesammeUe Schriftenuhtr Musik ami Musiker. See Gatz, op. cit., pp. 299-303. 


grant that there may also be an appreciation of pure beautiful 
sounds, which "gives us pleasure" ; but we can understand the 
music better when it conveys a poetic content.''^ Goethe, for 
instance, who was not musical (despite his interest in the art 
as a cultural product), tells how, in listening to a new piano 
quartet, he couJd make no sense out of any part save an allegro, 
which he could interpret as the Witches' Sabbath on the 
Blockberg, "so that after all I found a conception which could 
underlie this peculiar music." 

Where such interpretation is spontaneous, it is a perfectly 
legitimate practice, common among musically limited persons, 
and helpful; but it becomes pernicious when teachers or critics 
or even composers initiate it, for then they make a virtue out 
of walking with a crutch. It is really a denial of the true na- 
ture of music, which is unconventionalized, unverbalized 
freedom of thought. That is why the opponents of program- 
music and of hermeneutic are so vehement in their protests; 
they feel the complete misconception of the artistic signifi- 
cance of tonal structures, and although they give doubtful 
reasons for their objection, their reaction is perfectly sound. 

The real power of music lies in the fact that it can be "true" 
to the life of feeling in a way that language cannot; for its 
significant forms have that ambivalence of content which 
words cannot have. This is, I think, what Hans Mersmann 
meant, when he wrote: "The possibility of expressing oppo- 
sites simultaneously gives the most intricate reaches of ex- 
pressiveness to music as such, and carries it, in this respect, far 

^* Henri Prunieres (the same "interpreter" wlto tells us so categorically how 
Beethoven felt when he invented his themes) writes of Strauss's programmatic 
work-: "These works are endowed with a form sufficiently beautiful in itself to 
afford the auditor lively pleasure^ even should he not perceive all the author's 
intentions. It must be remembered, however, that his pleasure is doubled when he 
is capable of grasping, of gradually discovering, the hidden symbols." ("Musical 
Symbolism," p. 2().) 

D. M. Ferguson, in an essay entitled "How Can Music Express Emotion?" 
claims that music, "being unable, as words and pictures can do, to present to our 
attention the causes or external circumstances of feeling (jrom which we largely 
infer the nature of the feeling itself) , begins in viedias res, with the nervous dis- 
turbance itself and . . . instead of representing the conditions which arouse 
emotion and demanding that the observer observe therefrom the emotional meaning, 
music represents the emotional disturbance itself and demands that for its fullest 
comprehension its hearers shall infer the cause." {Proceedings of the Music 
Teachers' National Association, 1925, pp. 20-32. See pp. 26-27. Italics mine.) 

Another purveyor of interpretations, F. Nicholls, says (after classifying "chords 
of fear" and "arpeggios of joy") : "It is now desired to illuminate a piece of pure 
music by reading into it — in accordance with our acquired knowledge of musical 
symbolism — some more definite and particular meaning. . . . The music is the 
higher or cosmic interpretation of definite things. . , . An interpretation, never- 
theless, is often very helpful; and a 'parable,* so to speak, in words often, and 
quite justifiably, adds to the enjoyment of the music." (The Language of Music, 
or. Musical Expression and Characterization (London, 1924), pp. 77-78.) Here- 
upon he writes doggerel words to a Beethoven piano sonata. 

" J. P. Eckermann, Gesprache mit Goethe (Leipzig, ed. of 1912), p. 158. 



beyond the limits of the otiier arts." Music is revealing, 
where words are obscuring, because it can have not only a 
content, but a transient play of contents. It can articulate feel- 
ings without becoming wedded to them. The physical character 
of a tone, which we describe as "sweet," or "rich," or "stri- 
dent," and so forth, may suggest a momentary interpretation, 
by a physical response. A key-change may convey a new V^elt- 
gefuhl. The assignment of meanings is a shifting, kaleido- 
scopic play, probibly below the threshold of consciousness, 
certainly outside the pale of discursive thinking. The imagina- 
tion that responds to music is personal and associative and 
logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged 
with dream, but concerned with a wealth of formulations for 
its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of 
emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, 
conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling. Because no 
assignment of meaning is conventional, none is permanent 
beyond the sound that passes; yet the brief association was a 
flash of understanding. The lasting effect is. like the first effect 
of speech on the development of the mind, to make things 
conceivable rather than to store up propositions. Not com- 
munication but insight is the gift of music; in very naive 
phrase, a knowledge of "how feelings go." This has nothing to 
do with " Aifektentehre" is much more subtle, complex, 
protean, and much more important: for its entire record is 
emotional satisfaction, intellectual confidence, and musical un- 
derstanding. "Thus music has fulfilled its mission whenever 
our hearts are satisfied." 

It also gives substance to a theory that sounds very odd out- 
side some such context as this, a theory advanced by R/emann, 
and more recently developed by Professor Carroll Pratt, who 
(apparently quite independently) came to the conclusion that 
music neither causes nor "works off" real feelings, but pro- 
duces some peculiar effects we mistake for them. Music has its 
special, purely auditory characters, that "intrinsically contain 
certain properties which, because of their close resemblance to 
certain characteristics in the subiective realm, are freauently 
confused with emotions proper." But "these auditory charac- 
ters are not emotions at all. They merely somd the way moods 
feel. . . . More often than not these formal characters of music 
go unnamed: they are simply what the music is. . . ." ''^ 

" "Versuch einer mujikalischen Wertaesthetik," Zettschrift lir Uusikwissen- 
schatt.XWU (1935), 1: 33-47. 

" Pratt, The Meaning of Music ^N'ew York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1931), 



The notion that certain effects of music are so much like 
feelings that we mistake them for the latter, though they are 
really entirely different, may seem queer, unless one looks at 
music as an "implicit" symbolism; then, however, the confu- 
sion appears as something to be expected. For until symbolic 
forms are consciously abstracted, they are regularly confused 
with the things they symbolize. This is the same principle 
that causes myths to be believed, and names denoting powers 
to be endowed with power, and sacraments to be taken for 
efficacious acts; the principle set forth by Cassirer, in a pass- 
age which I have quoted once before, but cannot refrain 
from repeating here: "It is typical of the first naive, unreflec- 
tive manifestations of linguistic thinking as well as the mythi- 
cal consciousness, that its content is not sharply divided into 
symbol and object, but both tend to unite in a perfectly undif- 
ferentiated fusion." This principle marks the line between 
the "mythical consciousness" and the "scientific conscious- 
ness," or between implicit and explicit conception of reality. 
Music is our myth of the inner life — a young, vital, and mean- 
ingful myth, of recent inspiration and still in its "vegetative" 

p The Genesis of Artistic Import 

THE ROOTS of music go far back in history, but in its begin- 
nings it probably was not art. There seems to have been a long 
pre-musical period, when organized sounds were used for 
rhythmatization of work and ritual, for nervous excitation, and 
perhaps for magical purposes. In this period the elementary 
materials of music became established, tonal forms which 
finally reached a stage of articulation that made them, quite 

^' Ibid., p. 203. Compare Hugo Riemann, Wie HSren Wir Mi/sik? (Leipzig, 
1888), pp. 22-23: "It is really not a question ol expressing emotions at all, for 
. . . music only moves the soul in a way analogous to the way emotions move it, 
without pretending, however, in any way to arouse them (wherefore it does not 
signify anything that entirely heteroeeneous affects have similar dynamic forms, 
and therefore may be 'expressed' by tne same music, as has already been observed, 
quite rightly, by Hanslick). . . 

In The Practice of Philosophy, p. 178. 

This identification of symbol and object in music is given remarkable illustra- 
tion by a passage Irom Gehring's The Basis of Musical Pleasure, which reads: 
"If the sequence of thoughts which fills our mind from minute to minute bears 
any close resemblance to melodic structure, it is so subtle that nobody has yet 
been able to deled it. However, is it necessary to trace an analogy? May not the 
mental phenomenon and the musical counterpart here melt together? May not the 
melody be substituted for the important train of thought which it is supposed to 
mirror? In the case of measure, force, and tempo, music duplic?tfs or photographs 
the mind; in the case of melody, it coincides with it." (Page 98.) 



Spontaneously, instinct witii meaning. That is why Biicher, in 
his famous book Arbeit und Rhythmus,'^ can actually trace so 
many motifs back to sailors' cries, the long breaths of corn- 
grinders, to threshers' flail-strokes and the measure of bound- 
ing hammers in the smithy. All those mechanical sounds and 
spontaneous utterances had to be long familiar before their 
tonal quality could become abstracted for the listening ear; 
they had to attain fixed forms before they could become ele- 
ments for musical imagination. Probably son^ of some kind, 
as well as drummed dance-rhythm, is older than any musical 
interest. If indeed, as von Humboldt says, "Man is a singing 
creature," then music is not necessarily given as soon as there 
is song: then he may have sung his reveilles and musters, his 
incantations and his dances, long before he knew that vocal 
forms were beautiful and could be sung without signifying 
anything. Group speaking is necessarily chanting. The length 
of a sentence that can be spoken in one breath is a natural 
verse-limit, as the hold on the end of a choral verse indicates. 
Work rhythms, dance measures, choric utterance, these are 
some of the influences that formed music out of the sounds 
that are natural to man, that he utters at work, or in festal ex- 
citement, or in imitation of the world's sounds — the cuckoo's 
cry, the owl's hoot, the beat of hooves, feet, drums, or ham- 

All such noises are incipient "themes," musical models 
which artistic imagination may seize upon to form tonal ideas. 
But they do not themselves enter into music, as a rule; they 
are transformed into characteristic motifs; intervals, rhythms, 
melodies, all the actual ingredients of song are not supblied 
but merely inspired by sounds heard in nature. The auditory 
experiences which impress us are those which have musical 
possibilities, which allow themselves to be varied and devel- 
oped, expanded, altered, which can change their emotional 
value through harmonic modifications. Ernst Kurth, in his ex- 
cellent Musikpsychologie, has made a searching study of these 
proto-musical elements, which he calls Ursymbole :his words 
are the best statement I can find of the way familiar sounds 
are transformed into music, so I quote them here: 

"In investigating the thematic roots of folksong, one soon 
comes upon psychological roots as well ; among all races there 
appear certain recurrent, simple idioms that are really nothing 
but ultimate symbols of their vital consciousness : calls, chimes, 

•Karl B«cher, Arbeit und Rhytkmus (Leipzig, 4th ed. 1908; first publislied 
in 1S96). 


cradle-rhythms, work-rhythms; dance-forms, often intimately 
related to certain bodily movements and steps; shouts, hunting- 
calls and military signals, highland themes (Alphornweisen) 
and tallyhos (symbols of popular humor persisting even in 
high artistic composition) ; also plenty of borrowings from the 
national liturgy; in short, all sorts of motifs in which an un- 
dercurrent of popular imagination reveals itself. 

"Especially impressions from the first phases of childhood 
leave their imprint here; hence the fondness for (hidden) 
cradle-rhythms in folktunes, for certain beckoning calls, fur- 
thermore for religious motifs and the many clear or merely 
suggested bell sounds. . . . 

"All these themes are easily detected in folksongs, either 
frankly or obscurely present, sometimes clearly interpretable, 
sometimes of indeterminate symbolic character. They are by 
no means simply expressive of the momentary literal mean- 
ing of the text, but rather may be said to emanate directly 
(and sometimes even in defiance of the text) from musical 
reflection and formulation in its own right. . . . They can 
hardly be discerned as separate motif-values in the general 
easy flow of the tune; neither musically nor ideationally can 
a folksong ever be schematically analyzed as a sheer synthesis 
of such ultimate symbols." ^ 

All these sounds which meet our alert and retentive ear in 
the course of the day's work become fixed forms for our 
minds, because they are heard over and over again in nature, 
industry, or society; but they give rise to music because they 
are intrinsically expressive. They have not only associative 
value, but value as rhythms and intervals, exhibiting stress 
and release, progression, rise or fall, motion, limit, rest. It is 
in this musical capacity that they enter into art, not in their 
original capacity of signs, self-expressions, religious symbols, 
or oarrot-like imitation of sounds. 

There is a widespread and familiar fallacy, known as the 
"genetic fallacy," which arises from the historical method in 
philosophy and criticism: the error of confusing the origin of 
a thing with its import, of tracing the thing to its most primi- 
tive form and then calling it "merely" this archaic phenom- 
enon. In a philosophy of symbolism this mistake is particularly 
fatal, since all elementary symbolic forms have their origin in 
something else than symbolistic interest. Significance is always 
an adventitious value. Words were probably ritualistic sounds 
before they were communicative devices; that does not mean 

'Kurth, Musilipsyfholoiie. D. 29'- 


that language is now not "really" a means of communication, 
but is "really" a mere residue of tribal excitement. Musical 
materials, likewise, presumably had other uses before they 
served music; that does not imply that music is "really" not 
an intellectual achievement, and expression of musical ideas, 
at all, but is in reality a mere invocation of rain or game, or a 
rhythmic aid to dancers, or what not. 

But just as it is a mistake to reduce music to its origins, so 
it is, I think, to elevate primitive emotional sounds, like bird- 
songs or the sing-song speech of sentimental persons, to the 
dignity of music. They are musical materials, but their uncon- 
scious use is not art. This is true even of certain tunes. "The 
Old Gray Mare" was made for marching, and is a real aid to 
rhythmic tramping, but its musical function is quite secondary. 
Certain spinning songs are musically just bad. They have been 
developed in order to carry the words of a ballad, and no one 
cares about the melody. The same is true of drummed dance- 
rhythms interspersed with shouts or verses. Tonal forms arise 
casually in answer to practical demands, just as architectural, 
ceramic, and pictorial forms do, and attain some degree of 
conventional development before anyone sees them as artistic 
forms at all. 

The plastic arts find natural models everywhere. Nature is 
full of individual, beautiful, characteristic forms, and anyone 
molding clay or marking with his finger in the sand naturally 
recalls some object to give sense to the shapes that produce 
themselves under his hand. It is so easy to achieve organic 
unity in a design by making it represent something, that even 
when we would experiment with pure forms we are apt to find 
ourselves interpreting the results as human figures, faces, flow- 
ers, or familiar inanimate things. Geometric forms require 
purely intellectual and original organization to recommend 
themselves to the eye as sensible Gestalten, and must be rela- 
tively simple to be handled by their inventor or beholder as 
beautiful forms. But natural objects, by virtue of their prac- 
tical significance, carry a certain guarantee of unity and per- 
manence, which lets us apprehend their forms, though these 
forms would be much too difficult to grasp as mere visual pat- 
terns without extraneous meaning. An artistically sensitive 
mind sees significant form where such form presents itself. 
The profusion of natural models undoubtedly is responsible 
for the early development of plastic art. 

But there is a danger in that asset, too ; for the purely visual 
arts very easily become model-bound. Instead of merely pro- 


viding artistic ideas, a model may dictate to the artist; its prac- 
tical functions, which served to organize the conception of it 
as a form, may claim his attention to the detriment of his ab- 
stractive vision. Its interest as an object may conflict with its 
pictorial interest and confuse the purpose of his work. 

For the average beholder judging an artistic work, this 
confusion is inevitable. The first naive comment is always apt 
to be that the picture is, or is not, quite accurate; next, that the 
subject is or is not worthy of being represented; and then, 
probably, that the work is "pleasant" or "unpleasant." AU 
three of these comments are based on standards which have 
nothing to do with art; all three place a premium on qualities 
which usually detract from "significant form." The first de- 
mands that the artist should be primarily interested in the ob- 
ject — as a storekeeper might be, who was to judge it for his 
stock. The second concerns the object, not in relation to the 
picture — not its visual virtues or failings — but in relation to 
everything else in the world but the picture. Its practical, 
moral, or historical significance is the criterion of value here. 
The third treats the picture in what is really an "aesthetic" 
capacity, its power to excite or soothe our senses, to effect 
either annoyance or repose, as the colors of a living-room do; 
or, if the "pleasure" derives from the theme of the picture (a 
pastoral landscape being "pleasant," a St. Sebastian full of ar- 
rows "unpleasant" art) , it is expected to stimulate the imagi- 
nation in agreeable ways. 

But all these virtues may belong to mediocre pictures; they 
are, in fact, usually exemplified in the landscapes, marines, 
and penre paintings that serve as covers for magazines when- 
ever the pretty-girl-portrait is not appropriate. A painter of no 
insight, judgment, or imagination worth mentioning might 
follow Goethe's suggestions for a picture, find a graceful and 
perfect model to impersonate a noble character, and depict it 
with skillful accuracy — " getreue Nachamung der Natur," as 
his mentor called it — in colors chosen with faultless taste;* 
and produce a picture that might hang in every parlor, but 
mean exactly nothing to the sensibilities of any real artist. All 
these factors may, indeed, be materials for artistic conception; 
but they are not the conception itself, they offer no criterion 
of excellence. A subject which has emotional meaning for the 
artist may thereby rivet his attention and cause him to see its 
form with a discerning, active eye, and to keep that form 

» See "Zu malende Gegenstande" and "Maximen und Refleiionen uber Kuost." 
. In H'fr*e(Cotta ed.), vol. XXXV. 



present in his excited imagination until its highest reaches of 
significance are evident to him; then he will have, and will 
paint, a deep and original conception of it. That is why men 
long in love or in religious fervor are inspired to produce 
great, convincing works of art. Not the importance of the 
theme, nor the accuracy of its depiction, nor the fantasies 
stirred in the beholder, make a work of art significant, but the 
articulation of visual forms which Hoeslin would call its 

If the origin of art had to wait on somebody's conception of 
this inner meaning, and on his intention to express it, then our 
poor addle-brained race would probably never have produced 
the first artistic creation. We see significance in things long 
before we know what we are seeing, and it takes some other 
interest, practical or emotional or superstitious, to make us 
produce an object which turns out to have expressive virtue 
as well. We cannot conceive significant form ex nihilo; we 
can only find it, and create something in its image ; but because 
a man has seen the "significant form" of the thing he copies, 
he will copy it with that emphasis, not by measure, but by the 
selective, interpretative power of his intelligent eye. A savage 
may have this insight; in fact, Bushmen and Indians, Poly- 
nesians and Indonesians, seem to be prone to it, sensitive to 
forms as the early Egyptians and the nameless cave-dwellers 
of paleolithic ages were. Apparently primitive mankind has a 
"vegetative" period of artistic activity, as he has of linguistic 
and mythological and ritual growth. A crude pre-Athenian 
peasant makes a Herm for the protection of his home, and 
produces a statue of archaic beauty; an Indian carves a totem- 
pole, and achieves a composition; he fashions a canoe or 
molds a water-jar, and creates a lovely form. His model is the 
human body, the treetrunk, the curled dry leaf floating, the 
shell or skull or cocoanut from which he drinks. But as he 
imitates such models for practical ends he sees more than the 
utilitarian import of their shapes ; he literally sees the reflec- 
tion of human feeling, the "dynamic" laws of life, power, and 
rhythm, in forms on which his attention is focussed ; he sees 
things he cannot name, magical imports, Tightness of line and 
mass, his hands unwittingly express and even overdraw what 
he sees, and the product amazes and delights him and looks 
"beautiful." But he does not "know," in discursive terms, 
what he is expressing, or why he deviates from the model to 
make the form more "significant." When he emerges from his 
savage state and takes discursive reason seriously he tries to 


copy more accurately; and the ambition for naturalistic, literal 
representation, for rational standards of art, moral interpreta- 
tions, and so forth, confuse his intuition and vindanget his 
visual apprehensions. 

It has often been remarked that music as we know it, i.e. 
as an artistic medium, is of very recent date. William Wallace 
was so impressed with the laleness of its evolution that he 
attributed this sudden growth to the emergence of a new fac- 
ulty of hearing, a neurological development which man was 
supposed to have just attained. In The Threshold of Music, he 
asserted that the Greeks, and even our ancestors of five or six 
hundred years ago, could not hear what we can ; they could not 
distinguish consonance from dissonance. He points out some 
interesting facts in support of this theory, notably that to the 
Greeks, as to the Chinese before them, music was essentially 
an intellectual exercise. Instrumental music was practiced only 
as a craft supplying one of the physical pleasures of life, like 
catering or massage, and had none of the prestige of the true 
arts; wherefore musical instruments were few and crude, and 
the ingenious Greeks who could cast all sorts of delicate sculp- 
tured forms in bronze did not use that same skill to make 
even the most obvious improvements in the flute and the lyre. 
So he concludes that ancient musicians simply had not the 
"inner ear" that is normal, now-a-days, not only for gifted 
persons, but for the average man, who quite naturally hears 
melodies in the context of some harmonic structure. "While 
the Greeks had reached the highest attainments in eye-training 
and mind-training," he concludes, "as shown by their works of 
art, by their dialectics and their poetry, the existing records of 
their music go to prove that their sense of hearing lacked the 
faculty of discerning the finer shades and subtleties of sound."* 
Since the professional Greek rhapsodists prided themselves on 
singing quarter-tones accurately on pitch, this statement is 
certainly open to doubt. Yet it is indeed remarkable that, al- 
though the organ existed throughout the Middle Ages, no one 
discovered the possibilities of simultaneous tonal combina- 
tions; and also that the great classical period of music is cen- 
turies later than that of the other arts — drama, sculpture, or 
painting. If we reject Wallace's hypothesis, that "musical 
sense" evolved only with a recent neurological development, 
we assume the burden of a better explanation. 

This lies, I think, in the fact that music has very few nat- 
ural models. Bird songs, cries, whistles, traditional cattle-calls, 

* WiHiam Wallace, The Threshold of Music (London, 1908), esp. pp. 35-42. 



and metallic clangs are scant materials; even the intonations 
of the human voice, whether purely emotional (as with us), 
or semantic (like the Chinese speech-tones), are indefinite, 
elusive, hard to hold in memory as precise forms. There are 
hardly any given musical configurations in nature to suggest 
organized tonal structures, and reveal themselves as significant 
forms to a naive, sensitive, savage ear. 

The molds and scaffoldings in which music had to take 
shape were all of extraneous character. Pictures have visual 
models, drama has a direct prototype in action, poetry in story ; 
all may claim to be "copies," in the Platonic sense or in the 
simple Aristotelian sense of "imitations." But music, having 
no adequate models, had to rest on the indirect support of 
two non-musical aids — rhythm, and words. 

Rhythms are more fixed and stable, more definite than in- 
tonations. That is probably why the rhythmic structure is the 
first aspect of music to become formalized and precise. Rhythm 
can be simultaneously expressed in many ways — in shouts, 
steps, drum-beats, by voice, bodily motion, and instrumental 
noises. Words and acts and cries, whistles, rattles, and tom- 
toms, may all be synchronized in one single rhythm; no won- 
der the rhythmic figure is easily abstracted, when it is rendered 
in such multiple modes! It is obviously one and the same 
metric pattern, a general dynamic form, that may be sung, 
danced, clapped, or drummed; this is the element that can 
always be repeated, and therefore traditionally preserved. Nat- 
urally it offers us the first logical frame, the skeletal structure 
of the embryonic art of music.'"' 

The most obvious tonal material is, of course, the human 
voice; and the spontaneous function of the voice is natural 
utterance— cry or speech. In adults, speech has become such 
a dominant habit that even our purely emotional exclamations 
tend to verbal forms like: "Alas!" "Ach!" "Tiens!" And 
Biicher has shown how meaningless vocables carrying out 
rhythms are gradually replaced by assonant words, without 
any particular regard to meaning. Tennyson's farmer heard 
his horse's hooves say: "Property, property, property," which 
made sense enough to his mind; but the fisherman who hears 
the sails say: Jerry and Josh, Jerry and Josh," or the child 
who listens to the train's wheels repeating: "Jerusalem, Jeru- 
salem, Jerusalem," is simply yielding to the force of linguistic 
habit. This sort of mental formulation seems to underlie the 
construction of occupational songs, and probably of many 

= Cf. R. Wallaschck, "On the Origin of Music," Mind, XVI (1801), 63: 37S- 



festal songs. The adjustment of speech-impulses to the de- 
mands of rhythmic tonal figure is the natural source of all 
chanting, the beginning of vocal music." 

Since singing aloud requires some resonant, sustained vowel 
sounds, one cannot help singing syllables, and their suggestion 
of words makes the opportunity for poetic expression too ob- 
vious to be missed. But as soon as the silly random verbiage 
first dictated by rhythmic figures and tonal demands is imbued 
with poetic sense, a new source of artistry has been created: 
for the poetic line becomes the choral verse, which determines 
the elementary melodic form, the musical phrase. Patterns of 
pitch follow patterns of word-emphasis, and melodic lines be- 
gin and end with propositional lines. This is the second ex- 
traneous "model" for musical form. 

For a long age music was dependent on these two parents, 
dance and song, and was not found without them. As ritual 
dancing disappeared, and religion became more and more 
bound to verbal expression, to prayer and liturgy, occupational 
and secular festive music became wedded to dance forms, sa- 
cred music to the chant ; so that Goethe, reviewing the history 
of the art, and mistaking its guide-lines for its intrinsic char- 
acteristics, was led to say: "The holiness of sacred music, the 
jocund humor of folk-tunes, are the pivots round which all 
true music revolves. . . . Worship or dance." ^ 

But the folksong is by no means restricted to jocose senti- 
ments nor always based on dance-rhythms; it derives from 
sacred sources as well as from secular excitements, and very 
soon abstracts from both the first independent musical prod- 
uct — the "air." Old airs, like our modem hymn tunes, are 
neither sad nor gay; any words in the proper metrical pattern 
may be sung to them. Such melodies belong to no special occa- 
sion, no special subject-matter, but are merely used for the 
purpose of singing a variety of poems. Thus airs themselves 
often acquire names, after places, composers, saints, as well as 
after their original words. Airs are national possessions; they 

Biicher, Arbeit und Rhythmus^ p. 380. 

' Cf. the observation of Kathi Meyer: "In antiquity, ritual was a cult act, a 
genuine sacrifice wtiicli was really carried out. Prayers and songs were mere accom- 
paniments and remained secondary matter, hence the low development of these 
parts of the rite. Xow, in the Christian service, the actual sacrifice is no longer 
really performed, it is symbolized, transcendentalized, spiritualized. The service is 
a parable. So prayers and chants became the realities which had to be emphasized 
more and more; they too served ultimately the process of spiritualization. If, in 
the past, a symbol was needed for the cult, one could replace the act or even the 
god by an image, in painting or sculpture. Now, with the conceptualizing of 
religion, one can spiritualize only the psychic processes, the 'anima,^ That is 
effected by the word or better yet in music." Bedeutun^ und Wf^sender Musik 
(Strassburg, 1932), p. 47. 

' Goethe, "Ma.xiraen und Reflexionen iiber Kunst." 



may convey ballads, or find their way into semi-religious set- 
tings, solemn graduations, patriotic exercises and the like, 
creep into revivalist meetings, and end up in the most digni- 
fied hymnology." If their rhythmic accent is light and definite 
they are more apt to have a career on the village green, the 
barn floor, the dance hall, sung to endless silly words and 
played on fiddles or bagpipes without any words at all. The 
dance seems to be their excuse for being; but presently they 
are played or whistled on the street where no one requires 
their rhythmic measure for any but musical purposes. At this 
point music stands without its poetic or terpsichorean scaffold- 
ing, a tonal dynamic form, an expressive medium with a law 
and a life of its own. 

Because its models are non-musical, they are not as vital to 
its mature artistic products as the models of pictures, statues, 
plays, or poems are apt to be. Of course a certain dance has 
left its stamp on all Mozart's minuets, and another on Chopin's 
waltzes; yet the musical works called minuets and waltzes do 
not represent those respective dances as pictures represent ob- 
jects. They are abstracted forms reincarnated in music, and we 
can take the music and forget the dance far more easily than 
we can take a painting and forget what it portrays. The dance 
was only a framework; the air has other contents, musical 
characteristics, and interests us directly, not by its connotation 
of a "step" which we may not even know. 

The same is true of words that have served to frame a tune. 
The melody, heard by someone who does not hear or under- 
stand the words, recommends itself as a tonal pattern on its 
own merit, and makes perfectly good sense when it is played 
instead of sung. Music dispenses easily with its models, be- 
cause it could never really do them justice as a representative; 
they are merely its foster-parents, and it was never their true 
image anyway. This orphan estate belated its growth as an art, 
and kept it long in a merely auxiliary, even a utilitarian posi- 
tion; but it has the compensating virtue of making music 
more independent of its natural models than any other art 
when it does attain its selfhood. We perceive it as "signifi- 
cant form," unhampered by any fixed, literal meaning, by any- 
thing it represents. It is easier to grasp the artistic import of 
music than of the older and more model-bound arts. 

This artistic import is what painters, sculptors, and poets 
express through their depiction of objects or events. Its se- 
mantic is the play of hues, masses, colors, textures in plastic 

" Cf. Bucher, Arbeit und Rhylfimus, p. 401, 



arts, or the play of images, the tension and release of ideas, 
the speed and arrest, ring and rhyme of words in poetry — 
what Hoeslin calls "Formeninelodfe"a.nd "Gedankenrnelodie." 
Artistic expression is what these media will convey; and I 
strongly suspect, though I am not ready to assert it dogmati- 
cally, that the import of artistic expression is broadly the same 
in all arts as it is in music — the verbally ineffable, yet not in- 
expressible law of vital experience, the pattern of affective and 
sentient being. This is the "content" of what we perceive as 
"beautiful form"; and this formal element is the artist's 
"idea" which is conveyed by every great work. It is this which 
so-called "abstract art" seeks to abstract by defying the model 
or dispensing with it altogether; and which music above all 
arts can reveal, unobscured by adventitious literal meanings. 
That is presumably what Walter Pater meant by his much-de- 
bated dictum, "All art aspires to the condition of music." 

This does not mean, however, that music achieves the aim 
of artistic expression more fully than other arts. An ideal con- 
dition is its asset, not a supreme attainment, and it is this con- 
dition for which the other arts must strive, whereas music finds 
it fulfilled from the first stage in which it may be called an 
art at all. Its artistic mission is more visible because it is not 
obscured by meanings belonging to the represented object 
rather than to the form that is made in its image. But the ar- 
tistic import of a musical composition is not therefore greater 
or more perfectly formulated than that of a picture, a poem, or 
any other work that approaches perfection as closely after its 

Whether the field of musical meanings, over which its un- 
assigned symbols play — the realm of sentient and emotional 
experience — is ultimately the subject-matter of all art, is a 
moot question. In a general way it probably is so; but within 
this very great and uncharted domain there may well be many 
special regions, to one or another of which the medium of one 
art is more suited than that of another for its articulate expres- 
sion. It may well be, for instance, that our physical orientation 
in the world — our intuitive awareness of mass and motion, 
restraint and autonomy, and all characteristic feeling that goes 
with it — is the preeminent subject-matter of the dance, or of 
sculpture, rather than (say) of poetry; or that erotic emotions 
are most readily formulated in musical terms. I do not know ; but 
the possibility makes me hesitate to say categorically, as many 

" Walter Pater, The Renaissance. Studies in Art and Poetry (New York, 1908; 
1st ed. 1873), p, 140, 



philosophers and critics have said,ii that the import of all the 
arts is the same, and only the medium depends on the peculiar 
psychological or sensory make-up of the artist, so that one man 
may fashion in clay what another renders in harmonies or in 
colors, etc. The medium in which we naturally conceive our 
ideas may restrict them not only to certain forms but to certain 
fields, howbeit they all lie within the verbally inaccessible field 
of vital experience and qualitative thought. 

The basic unity of all the arts is sometimes argued from the 
apparent beginning of all artistic ideas in the so-called "aes- 
thetic emotion" which is supposed to be their source and 
therefore (by a slightly slipshod inference) their import. 
Anyone who has worked in more than one medium probably 
can testify to the sameness of the "aesthetic emotion" accom- 
panying creation in the various arts. But I suspect that this 
characteristic excitement, so closely wedded to original con- 
ception and inner vision, is not the source, but the effect, of 
artistic labor, the personal emotive experience of revelation, 
insight, mental power, which an adventure in "implicit under- 
standing" inspires. It has often been stated that it is the same 
emotion which overtakes a mathematician as he constructs a 
convincing and elegant proof ; and this is the beatitude which 
Spinoza, who knew it well, called "the intellectual love of 
God." Something like it is begotten in appreciation of art, too, 
though not nearly in the same measure as in producing: but 
the fact that the difference is one of degree makes it plausible 
that the emotion springs from the one activity which the artist 
and the beholder's share in unequal parts — the comprehension 
of an unspoken idea. In the artist this activity must be sus- 
tained, complete, and intense; his intellectual excitement is 
often at fever pitch. The idea is his own, and if he loses his 
command of it, confused by the material or distracted by press- 
ing irrelevancies, there is no symbol to hold it for him. His 
mind is apt to be furiously active while an artistic conception 
takes shape. To the beholder the work is offered as a constant 
source of an insight he attains gradually, more or less clearly, 

Cf. S. T. Coleridge's essay. "On the Principles of Genial Criticism Concern- 
ing tlie Fine Arts, More Especially tho5e of Statuary and Paintins," appended to 
Biographia LUeraria, in the Oxford ed. of 1907; also D'Udine, Vart ft le geste, 
p. 70. 

Cf. Olive Bell : "The starting-point for all s);stems of aesthetics must be the 
personal experience of a peculiar emotion. . . . This emotion is called the aesthetic 
emotion; and if we can discover some quality common to all and absent from 
none of the objects that provoke it, we shall have solved what 1 take to be the 
cenhal problem of aesthetics." (Art, p 6.) Mr. Bell forgets the logical rule that 
such a discovery would prove nothing, unless the quality in question were also 
peculiar to aesthetic objects; any quality common to all objects whatever would 
fulfil the condition he states. 


perhaps never in logical completeness; and although his men- 
tal experience also wakens the characteristic emotion, variously 
called "feeling of beauty," aesthetic emotion," and "aesthetic 
pleasure," he knows nothing like the exhilaration and tense 
excitement of an artist before his pristine marble or clay, his 
unmarked canvas or paper, as the new work dawns in his brain. 

Perhaps it is inevitable that this emotion which one really 
has in producing or contemplating an artistic composition 
should become confused with the content of the work, since 
that content is itself emotive. If there is feeling in the work, 
and both artist and spectator experience a feeling, and more- 
over the artist has more of a feeling than the spectator, would 
it not take a very careful thinker to refrain from jumping to 
the conclusion that the emotion embodied in the form is felt 
by the artist before he begins his work, is "expressed" in the 
process of creating as it might be in shouting or weeping, and 
is sympathetically felt by the audience? Yet I believe the 
"aesthetic emotion" and the emotional content of a work of 
art are two very different things; the "aesthetic emotion" 
springs from an intellectual triumph, from overcoming bar- 
riers of word-bound thought and achieving insight into liter- 
ally "unspeakable" realities; but the emotive content of the 
work is apt to be something much deeper than any intellectual 
experience, more essential, pre- rational, and vital, something 
of the life-rhythms we share with all growing, hungering, 
moving and fearing creatures: the ultimate realities them- 
selves, the central facts of our brief, sentient existence. 

"Aesthetic pleasure," then, is akin to (though not identical 
with) the satisfaction of discovering truth. It is the character- 
istic reaction to a well-known, but usually ill-defined, phenom- 
enon called "artistic truth" — well-known to all artists, creative 
or appreciative, but so ill-defined by most epistemologists that 
it has become their favorite aversion. Yet truth is so intimately 
related to symbolism that if we recognize two radically differ- 
ent types of symbolic expression we should logically look for 
two distinct meanings of truth; and if both symbolic modes 
are rational enough, both senses of truth should be definable. 

Here it must be noted that the distinction between discur- 
sive and presentational symbols does not correspond to the 
difference between literal and artistic meanings. Many presen- 
tational symbols are merely proxy for discourse; geometric re- 
lations may be rendered in algebraic terms — clumsy terms per- 
haps, but quite equivalent — and graphs are mere abbreviated 
descriptions. They express facts for discursive thinking, and 



their content can be verbalized, subjected to the laws of vo- 
cabulary and syntax. Artistic symbols, on the other hand, are 
untranslatable; their sense is bound to the particular form 
which it has taken. It is always implicit, and cannot be expli- 
cated by any interpretation. This is true even of poetry, for 
though the material of poetry is verbal, its import is not the 
literal assertion made in the words, but the way the assertion 
is made, and this involves the sound, the tempo, the aura of 
associations of the words, the long or short sequences of ideas, 
the wealth or poverty of transient imagery that contains them, 
the sudden arrest of fantasy by pure fact, or of familiar fact 
by sudden fantasy, the suspense of literal meaning by a sus- 
tained ambiguity resolved in a long-awaited key-word, and the 
unifying, all-embracing artifice of rhythm. (The tension which 
music achieves through dissonance, and the reorientation in 
each new resolution to harmony, find their equivalents in the 
suspensions and periodic decisions of prepositional sense in 
poetry. Literal sense, not euphony, is the "harmonic structure" 
of poetry; word-melody in literature is more akin to tone-color 
in music.) 

The poem as a whole is the bearer of artistic import, as a 
painting or a drama is. We may isolate significant hnes, as we 
may isolate beauties in any work, but if their meaning is not 
determined and supported by their context, the entire work, 
then that work is a failure despite the germ of excellence it 
contains. That is why Professor Urban's restatement of T. S. 
Eliot's cryptic lines: 

"And I see the damp souls of the housemaids 
Sprouting disconsolately at area gates," 

namely: "That housemaids' souls are damp and sprout," and 
his demand for a more adequate rendering of this assertion by 
way of philosophical interpretation, seems to me a fundamental 
misconception of poetic import. A "more adequate render- 
ing" would be more, not less, poetic; it would be a better 
poem. "Artistic truth" does not belong to statements in the 
poem or their obvious figurative meanings, but to its figures 
and meanings as they are used, its statements as they are made, 
its framework of word-sound and sequence, rhythm and recur- 
rence and rhyme, color and image and the speed of their pas- 
sage — in short, to the poem as "significant form." The 

'^Urbsn, Language and Reality, see pa-ssage quoled p. 234, above. To anyone 
who cannot grasp the poet's meaning and vision here, Professor Urban's "interpre- 
tation" certainly would make matters worse rather than better. 


material of poetry is discursive, but the product — the artistic 
phenomenon — is not; its significance is purely implicit in the 
poem as a totality, as a form compounded of sound and sug- 
gestion, statement and reticence, and no translation can rein- 
carnate that. Poetry may be approximated in other languages 
and give rise to surprisingly beautiful new versions revealing 
new possibilities of its skeletal literal ideas and rhetorical de- 
vices; but the product is new, like an orchestral scoring of an 
organ-fugue, a piano version of a string quartet, or a photo- 
graph of a painting. 

An artistic symbol — whidr may be a product of human 
craftsmanship, or (on a purely personal level) something in 
nature seen as "significant form" — has more than discursive 
or presentational meaning: its form as such, as a sensory 
phenomenon, has what I have called "implicit" meaning, like 
rite and myth, but of a more catholic sort. It has what L. A. 
Reid called "tertiary subject-matter," beyond the reach of "pri- 
mary imagination" (as Coleridge would say) and even the 
"secondary imagination" that sees metaphorically. "Tertiary 
subject-matter is subject-matter imaginatively experienced in 
the work of art ... , something which cannot be apprehended 
apart from the work, though theoreticaOy distinguishable from 
its expressiveness." 

"Artistic truth," so called, is the truth of a symbol to the 
forms of feeling — nameless forms, but recognizable when 
they appear in sensuous replica. Such truth, being bound to 
certain logical forms of expression, has logical pecuUarities 
that distinguish it from prepositional truth: since presenta- 
tional symbols have no negatives, there is no operation where- 
by their truth-value is reversed, no contradiction. Hence "the 
possibility of expressing opposites simultaneously," on which 
Mersmann commented. Falsity here is a complicated failing, 
not a function of negation. For this reason Professor Reid 
calls it not falsity but inexpressiveness ; and Urban, in a mo- 
ment undisturbed by epistemology, abandons not only the 
term "falsity," but also "truth," and suggests that artistic 
forms should rather be designated as adequate or inadequate 
to the ideas they embody, Perhaps he did not see that this 
shift of terminology belies his doctrine that all art makes asser- 
tions which must ultimately be paraphrased in language; for 
assertions are true or false, and their adequacy has to be taken 
for granted before we can judge them as assertions at all. 
They are always debatable and may be tested for their truth- 

'* "Beauty and Significance," p. 132. " Urban, op. cit. See pp. 439-442, 



values by the nature of their explicable consequences. Art, on 
the other hand, has no consequences; it gives form to some- 
thing that is simply there, as the intuitive organizing functions 
of sense give form to objects and spaces, color and sound. It 
gives what Bertrand Russell calls "knowledge by acquaintance" 
of affective experience, below the level of belief, on the deeper 
level of insight and attitude. And to this mission it is either 
adequate or inadequate, as images, the primitive sjmbols of 
"things," are adequate or inadequate to give us a conception of 
what things are "like." 

To understand the "idea" in a work of art is therefore more 
like having a new experience than like entertaining a new 
proposition; and to negotiate this knowledge by acquaintance 
the work may be adequate in some degree. There are no de- 
grees of literal truth, but artistic truth, which is all signifi- 
cance, expressiveness, articulateness, has degrees; therefore 
works of art may be good or bad, and each must be judged 
on our experience of its revelations. Standards of art are set 
by the expectations of people whom long conversance with a 
certain mode — music, painting, architecture, or what not — has 
made both sensitive and exacting; there is no immutable law 
of artistic adequacy, because significance is always for a mind 
as well as of a form. But a form, a harmony, even a timbre, 
that is entirely unfamiliar is "meaningless," naturally enough; 
for we must grasp a Gestalt quite definitely before we can per- 
ceive an implicit meaning, or even the promise of such a 
meaning, in it; and such definite grasp requires a certain 
familiarity. Therefore the most original contemporary music 
in any period always troubles people's ears. The more pro- 
nounced its new idiom, the less diey can make of it, unless the 
impulse which drove the composer to this creation is some- 
thing of a common experience, of a yet inarticulate Zeitgeist, 
which others, too, have felt. Then they, like him, may be 
ready to experiment with new expressions, and meet with an 
open mind what even the best of them cannot really judge. 
Perhaps some very wonderful music is lost because it is too 
extraordinary. It may even be lost to its composer because he 
cannot really handle his forms, and abandons them as unsuc- 
cessful. But intimate acquaintance with all sorts of music does 
give some versatile minds a power of grasping new sounds; 
people so inclined and trained will have a "hunch," at least. 

Lord Russell fails to appreciate, I think, the logical, formulative mission of 
sense, or else he evades it because it has kept company with idealism. But to see 
in certain lorms is not to create their contents, though it is a source of that 
relativistic character of "data" which makes them lesi final and absolute than his 
empiricism lets him admit. 


that they are dealing with true "significant form" though they 
still hear a good deal of it as noise, and will contemplate it 
until they comprehend it, for better or worse. It is an old story 
that Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner were "hard to hear" in 
their own time. Many people today, who can follow Rimsky- 
KorsakofFor Debussy as easily as Schumann, cannot hear mu- 
sic in Hindemith or Bartok; yet the more experienced prob- 
ably know, by certain signs, that it is there. 

On the other hand, artistic forms are exhaustible, too. 
Music that has fulfilled its mission may be outgrown, so that 
its style, its quality, its whole conception, palls on a generation 
that is ardently expressing or seeking to express something 
else.i'f Only very catholic minds can see beauty in many styles 
even without the aid of historical fancy, of a conscious "self- 
projection" into other settings or ages. It is probably easiest in 
music, where typical forms are not further bound down by lit- 
eral references to things that have a transient and dated char- 

The worst enemy of artistic judgment is literal judgment, 
which is so much more obvious, practical, and prompt that it 
is apt to pass its verdict before the curious eye has even taken 
m the entire form that meets it. Not blindness to "significant 
form," but bUndedness, due to the glaring evidence of famil- 
iar things, makes us miss artistic, mythical, or sacred import. 
This is probably the source of the very old and widespread 
doctrine that the so-called "material world" is a curtain be- 
tween humanity and a higher, purer, more satisfying Truth — 
a "Veil of Maya," or Bergson's false, "spatialized" Reality. 

Is it conceivable that mysticism is a mark of inadequate 
art? That might account for the fact that all very great artistic 
conceptions leave something of mysticism with the beholder; 
and mysticism as a metaphysic would then be the despair of 
implicit knowledge, as skepticism is the despair of discursive 

To us whose intelligence is bound up with language, whose 
achievements are physical comforts, machines, medicines, great 
cities, and the means of their destruction, theory of knowl- 
edge means theory of communication, generalization, proof, 
in short: critique of science. But the limits of language are not 
the last limits of experience, and things inaccessible to lan- 
guage may have their own forms of conception, that is to say, 
their own symbolic devices. Such non-discursive forms, charged 
with logical possibihties of meaning, underlie the significance 

Cf. Hansllck, Vom Uusikalisch-Schdnen, p. 57. 



of music; and their recognition broadens our epistemology to 
the point of including not only the semantics of science, but a 
serious philosophy of art. 

10 The Fabnc of Meaning 

ALL THINKING begins with seeing : not necessarily through the 
eye, but with some basic formulations of sense perception, in 
the peculiar idiom of sight, hearing, or touch, normally of all 
the senses together. For all thinking is conceptual, and concep- 
tion begins with the comprehension of Gestajt. 

The first product of intellectual seeing is literal knowledge, 
the abstracted conception of things, to which those things 
themselves stand in the relation of instances. So-called "com- 
mon sense" does not carry this literal formulation of its ideas 
of things, acts, persons, etc., very far in the way of elabora- 
tion. Common-sense knowledge is prompt, categorical, and in- 
exact. A mind that is very sensitive to forms as such and is 
aware of them beyond the common-sense requirements for 
recognition, memory, and classification of things, is apt to use 
its images metaphorically, to exploit their possible significance 
for the conception of remote or intangible ideas; that is to 
say, if our interest in Geslalten goes beyond their common- 
sense meanings it is apt to run us into their dynamic, mythical, 
or artistic meanings. To some people this happens very easily; 
in savage society, at least in certain stages of development, it 
seems to be actually the rule, so that secondary imports of 
forms — plastic, verbal, or behavioral forms — often eclipse 
what Coleridge called the "primary imagination" of them. 
Sense-data and experiences, in other words, are essentially 
meaningful structures, and their primary, secondary, or even 
more recondite meanings may become crossed in our impres- 
sion of them, to the detriment of one value or another.^ But 
our first awareness of presented forms usually serves to label 
them according to their kinds, and add them to the general 
stock of our "knowledge by acquaintance." 

It is fortunate that our first understanding of forms is nor- 
mally a literal comprehension of them as typical things or 
such-and-such events; for this interpretation is the basis of 
intelligent behavior, of daily, hourly, and momentary adjust- 

' Roger Fry has said in tliis connection: "Biologically speaking, art is a blas- 
phemy. We were given our eyes to see things, not to loolc at them." (Vision and 
Design, p. 47.) 

meat to our nearest surroundings. It is non-discursive, spon- 
taneous abstraction from the stream of sense-experience, 
elementary sense-knowledge, which may be called practical 
vision. This is the meeting-point of thought, which is sym- 
bolic, with animal behavior, which rests on sign-perception; 
for the edifice which we build out of literal conceptions, the 
products of practical vision, is our systematic spatio-temooral 
world. The same items that are signs to our animal reflexes 
are contents for certain symbols of this conceptual system. If 
we have a literal conception of a house, we cannot merely 
think of a house, but know one when we see it ; for a sensory 
sign stimulating practical action also answers to the image 
with which we think. 

This dual operation of a datum as sign and symbol together 
is the key to realistic thinking: the envisagement of fact. 
Here, in practical vision, which makes symbols for thought 
out of signs for behavior, we have the roots of practical intelli- 
gence. It is more than specialized reaction and more than free 
imagination; it is conception anchored in reality. 

"Fact" is not a simple notion. It is that which we conceive 
to be the source and context of signs to which we react suc- 
cessfully; this is a somewhat vague definition, but when all is 
said, "fact" is a somewhat vague term. When logicians try to 
define it, it becomes a hypostatized proposition ; 2 there are 
positive and negative, specific and general, universal and par- 
ticular facts ; 8 Professor Lewis even speaks of actual and un- 
real facts.* On the other hand, when psychoIofi:<sts or their 
philosophical cousins, the pragmatists, offer a definition, fact 
becomes hardly distinguishable from the animalian sign-re- 
sponse. The best attempt I have seen at a definition of "fact," 
in relation to what might be called "stark reality" on the one 
hand, and language, or literal formulation, on the other, is 
made by Karl Britton in his recent book. Communication. 

"A fact," says Britton, "is essentially abstract but there. It is 
what is an object of attention, of discriminating awareness, 
in present events. ... A fact is that in events to which we 
make a leamed and discriminating response determined in 
part by the understanding of statements 

2 As it certainly is, in the writings of Moore, Stebbing. Ramsey, Wisdom, and 
oilier British philosophers. Cf. L. s! Stebbinf?, "SubMances, Events, and Facts," 
The Journal of Philosophy. XXIX (l')^2^, 12: 309-322; F. P. Ramsey and G..E. 
Moore "Symposium: Facts and Propositions," Proceeding; of the Afistotelim 
Society suppl vol VII fl927\ JS3-20(j; John Wisdom, "Time. Fact, and Sab- 
stance." iW.N' S- XXIX (1928-29), 67-94. ^ . , „ , , , , 

s (;f Hugh Miller The Dimensions of Particular Fact, Tne Journal, a; 

^'''lrt\e^^s,^"k*cw?syems'.*^d &e Unity of the WoflS," The 3o.rnoI of 
pi,:t~'„C)lv vx '•iQ2'i.f)r 14t-151. Seep. 142 



"A fact is that which determines assent or dissent, without 
inference and in accordance with the rules. . . . 

"The formal rules of language determine the structure of 
propositions and show in a general way the sort of thing that 
a proposition is. ... But the fact which shows the proposi- 
tion to be true, is that in events to which I make a response 
that has the same structure as the proposition p. Can I then 
learn about the general structural character of facts from the 
formal laws of language ? Yes, but not about the general struc- 
tural character of events. . . . 

"To the same events an infinite variety of responses is pos- 
sible: he who understands 'p' makes only certain responses 
and not others. It is this that introduces limitation, structure; 
events as such have no structure. . . . 

"It follows that it is only for thinking minds that there is 
structure in nature. ... A world without minds is a world 
without structure, without relations and quahties, without 
facts." 5 

This excerpted passage shows at once the logician's convic- 
tion that the form of fact is the form of proposition, and the 
behaviorist's desire to dispense with concepts and speak only 
in terms of "response." So the form of a fact becomes the 
form of a specific human response to a specific event. This 
response, I take it, is his conceiving of the event (though I 
should regard his conceiving as only a component of the "re- 
sponse," which probably has other aspects not determining 
the fact at all) . At any rate, allowing for special wordings re- 
quired by operationalism, behaviorism, etc., we probably agree 
on the main tenet that a fact is an intellectually formulated 
event, whether the formulation be performed by a process of 
sheer vision, verbal interpretation, or practical response. A 
fact is an event as we see it, or would see it if it occurred for 
us. It is something to which a proposition is applicable; and 
a proposition that is not applicable to any event or events is 
false. We can construct propositions that apply to all events; 
these are necessary propositions, or in Wittgenstein's phrase, 
"tautologies." Some propositions apply directly, some indi- 
rectly, to events; hence our specific and general, universal and 
particular, positive and negative facts. Only "unreal facts" 
seem to me to be pure hypostatizations of propositional con- 
tent, and defy the purpose of the concept "fact," which is to 

^ Karl Britton. Communkaiion: A Philosophical Studv of Language (N'ew York: 
Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939), pp. 204-206. 

recognize the link between symbolic process and signific re- 
sponse, between imagination and sensory experience. 

In a naive stage of thoughts, facts are taken for granted; 
matters of fact are met in practical fashion as they become ob- 
vious. If it requires further facts to explain a given state of 
affairs, such further facts are simply assumed. Imagination 
supplies them, philosophical interest sanctions them, and the 
popular mind accepts them on quite other grounds than em- 
pirical evidence. This pre-scientific type of thought, systematic 
enough in its logical demonstrations, but unconcerned about 
any detailed agreement with sense-experience, has been de- 
scribed and commented on as often as the history of philoso- 
phy has been written: how Plato ascribed circular orbits to the 
planets because of the excellence of circular motion, but Kep- 
ler plotted those orbits from observation and found them to be 
elliptical ; how the schoolmen argued about the speed of fall- 
ing bodies until Galileo, that enfant terrible of learning, 
dropped his weights from the leaning tower, and so forth. 
And everybody knows how these and other demonstrations un- 
dermined and finally demolished scholasticism, and gave birth 
to science; for, as Francis Bacon said, all it required was "that 
men should put their notions by, and attend solely to facts." 

Now if men had really "put their notions by," and merely 
paid attention to facts, they would have returned to the con- 
dition of Hobie Baker the cat, whose mentality Mr. Stuart 
Chase covets so wistfully. Religion, superstition, fantastic Bib- 
lical world-history, were not demoUshed by "discoveries"; 
they were oulgroivn by the European mind. Again the individ- 
ual life shows in microcosm the pattern of human evolution: 
the tendency fo intellectual growth, in persons as in races, 
from dreamlike fantasy to realistic thinking. Many of the facts 
that contradicted theology had been known for ages; many dis- 
coveries required no telescope, no test-tube, no expedition 
round the world, and would have been just as possible physi- 
cally hundreds of years before. But so long as the great Chris- 
tian vision filled men's eyes, and systems of ethical symbols or 
great artistic ventures absorbed their minds, such facts as that 
wood floats on water and stones sink, living bodies have a uni- 
form temperature and others vary with the weather, were just 
meaningless. Surely sailors had always known that ships 
showed their topsails over the horizon before they hove into 
full view. Surely the number of known animal species, had 
any hunter or farmer bothered to count them up, would al- 
ways have made it obvious that the measurements of the ark 



could not have accommodated them by two and two, with 
food-supplies for eight or nine months. But nobody had 
chosen to take stock of these numbers while reading the meas- 
urements. For mythological purposes, the ark was "very big," 
the animals "very many," and their Lebensraum was God's 

Not in better information, but in a natural tendency of 
matming thought toward realism, lay the doom of the dog- 
matic age. When logical acumen reaches a certain height, and 
the imaginative power has been disciplined into real skill and 
ingenuity, then the normal growth of men's interest in facts 
reveals a new challenge to philosophical thinking — the intel- 
lectual challenge of "contingent" things. The most insistent 
facts have always been respected in practice, or we would not 
be here. But a society that has its mind fixed on religious sym- 
bols deals with facts in a purely practical spirit and disposes 
of them as fast as they arise. To take philosophical interest 
in their concomitant variations, their sequences, their uni- 
formities, demands a change of outlook.* It sets up a new 
aim for constructive thought: not only to form a system out 
of traditional premises, but to construct a logically coherent 
cosmology such that its premises shall imply certain proposi- 
tions exemplified by observable facts. When this challenge is 
felt (it need not be consciously recognized), its immediate 
effect is a new interest in facts, not as distracting interruptions 
to pure thought, but as its very sources and terminals, the fixed 
points on which theories and inventions must hinge. 

The power that comes with scientific knowledge could be- 
come apparent only after science had attained a considerable 
growth. Practical gain, dominion over nature, were therefore 
not its early motives; its motives were intellectual, thev lay in 
the restless desire of an ever-imaginative mind to exploit the 
poss'b'lities of the factual world as a field for constructive 
thought. Just as a person addicted to cross-word puzzles be- 
comes a maniac for new words, so the pioneers of science were 

" The importance of this diange lias been pointed out and discussed by A. N. 
VVhitehcd, m Sciewe and the Modern World (New York: The Macmillan Co.. 
1926). ch:ip. 1. 

^ In this opinion, loo, I find myself supported by the judgment of Professor 
Whitehead, who said in one of his published lectures; "Science has been developed 
under the impulse of speculative Reason, the desire for explanatory knowledge. 
Its reo'.ctj'^n on technolo^ did not commence until after the invention of the im- 
proved steam endne in the year 1769. Even then, the nineteenth century was well 
adv-nced before this reaction became one of the dominating facts. . . . There was 
nothin? systematic and dominating in the interplay between science and technical 
procedure. The one great exception was the foundation of the Greenwich Observa- 
tory for the improvement of navigation." (The Function of Reason, Princeton: 
Pnnceton University Press, 1929, pp. 38-39.) 



avid for facts that could conceivably be used in their business. 
Looking, measuring, analyzing things, became something like 
sports in their own right. But great scientists were never dis- 
tracted by the fact-finding rage; they knew from the first what 
they were doing. Their task was always to relate facts to each 
other, either as different cases of the same general fact, or as 
successive transformations of an initial fact according to some 
systematic principle, or (at an elementary stage of conception) 
as more and more exemplifications of "contingent laws," or 
generally observed uniformities. 

The interest in facts led to their progressive discovery, to 
the invention of aids and implements of discovery, and so to 
an unprecedented acquaintance with the world. But it was far 
less the information men acquired that undid their religious 
beliefs than the change of heart which prompted such research. 
The desire to construct a world-picture out of facts superseded 
the older ambition to weave a fabric of "values," in which 
things and events were interpreted as manifestations of good 
and evil, related to powers, wills, minds, but not essentially 
to each other; their own laws having been given short shrift 
as mere "contingencies," which might even be expected to 
yield, upon occasion, to higher principles, with the result 
known as "miracle." No matter how much the old order thun- 
dered against new facts, declaring them not so, unknowable, 
uncertain, dangerous half-truths, or what-not, the new facts 
were not its real destroyers, but the new eyes that saw them. 

We have inherited the realistic outlook and its intellectual 
ideal, science. We have inherited a naive faith in the substan- 
tiality and ultimacy of facts, and are convinced that human 
life, to have any value, must be not only casually and oppor- 
tunely adapted to their exigencies (as even the most other- 
worldly lives have been), but must be intellectually filled with 
an appreciation of "things as they are." Facts are our very 
measure of value. They are the framework of our lives; think- 
ing that leads to the discovery of observable fact takes us 
"down to reality"; Wittgenstein has really caught and recorded 
the modern man's intellectual attitude, in his metaphysical 
aphorisms: ® 

"The world is everything that is the case." (1) 

"The totality of atomic facts is the world." (2.04) 

"The world divides into facts." (1.2) 

Our world "divides into facts" because we so divide it. 
Facts are our guarantees of truth. Every generation hankers 

^ Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. 



for "truth," and whatever will guarantee the truth of propo- 
sitions to its satisfaction, is its zero-point of theory where 
thought comes to rest in "knowledge." To us it seems utterly 
unimaginable that anyone could really resist a demonstratio ad 
occulos and hold his deepest convictions — those which com- 
mand his actions — on any other basis. Yet people have acted 
with lordly disregard of "appearances," and do so yet. Chris- 
tian Scientists flatly deny the reality of visible facts that are 
unpleasant, and act on their disbelief. Not only idealists, but 
even their great antagonist William James held it possible 
that, from the intellectual vantaxre-point of "higher beings" 
than men, our evils might prove to be illusions." The ancient 
Greeks had such a respect for pure reason that they could seri- 
ously accept, on its logical merits, a doctrine of reality which 
was never exemplified in fact at a'l, but flatly contradicted by 
experience; Parmenides could declare all events to be illusory 
because change was not possible under the premises of his 
systematic thought. Such heroic independence from sense-evi- 
dence is not often found, and of course the most hard-bitten 
Eleatic could not act on this faith until he was ready to die in 
it (which, ex hypothesi. could not happen) . But all these doc- 
trines show how in different stages of thought people demand 
different kinds of security for their convictions. 

We find sense-evidence a very gratifying conclusion to the 
process of thought. Our standards of rationality are the same 
as Euclid's or Aristotle's — generality, consistency, coherence, 
systematic inclusion of all possible cases, economy and ele- 
gance in demonstration — but our ideal of science makes one 
further demand: the demand of what has been called "maxi- 
mal interpretability." This means that as many propositions 
as possible shall be applicable to observable fact. The systems 
of thought that seem to us to represent "knowledge" are those 
which were designed as hypotheses, i.e. designed with refer- 
ence to experience and intended to meet certain tests: at definite 
points their implications must yield propositions which ex- 
press discoverable facts. If and only if these crucial proposi- 
tions do correspond to facts, a hypothesis is ranked as "truth," 
its premises as "natural laws." 

I will not enlarge on the assumptions, methods, standards, 

and aims of science, because that has been done a dozen times 

over, since Henri Poincare's La Science et I'hytiothese-^^ewen 

the part played by symbolism in science has been exhaustively 

• See "Is Life Worth Living?" in The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in 
Popular Philosophy (1905), p. ^8. 
>" Published in Paris in 603. 


and, I think, well treated by mathematicians and philosophers 
from Charles Peirce to the Vienna Circle. The upshot of it all 
is that the so-called "empirical spirit" has taken possession of 
our scholarship and speculation as well as of our common 
sense, so that in pure theory as well as in business and politics 
the last appeal is always to that peculiar hybrid of concept 
and percept, the "given fact." 

The realistic turn of mind which marks our civilization, 
and is probably a sign of our coming-of-age as a race, is further 
manifested in our rigorous standards of historical fact. This is 
not at all the same thing as scientific fact; nor is historical 
truth judged by the same criteria as the truth of scientific 
propositions. For to science, as Lord Russell once remarked 
in an academic seminar,!^ "\ miracle would not be important 
if it happened only once, or even very rarely"; but in history 
the point is to find out what did happen just once, what were 
the specific facts about a specific occasion. Science never cares 
about historic instances as such: its "given facts" are always 
noted as illustrations, and occurrences which do not illustrate 
anything are not "scientific." If miracles occurred — events 
which could not be explained, but also could not be repeated 
or expected to repeat themselves — we could discount them as 
"inexactnesses" in our general picture of nature. But to a his- 
torian a miracle, though there were but one in the world, would 
be of great importance if it had consequences which ulti- 
mately involved many people. If there were any indubitable 
record of it which clearly established it as a miracle, history 
would simply accept it; but science would either exclude the 
fact, or would have to be entirely rewritten. Now if this mira- 
cle were really unique, or so rare as to be practically unique, 
the disadvantages of rewriting science would make it advisable 
to put a "scientific fiction," such as for instance an unfounded 
denial of the alleged "fart," in place of its record. 

Science is an intellectual scheme for handling facts, a vast 
and relatively stable context in which whole classes of facts 
may be understood. But it is not the most decisive expression 
•of realistic thinking: that is the new "historical sense." Not 
our better knowledge of what are the facts of history — there 
is no judging that — but the passion for running down evi- 
dence, all the evidence, the unbiased, objective evidence for 
specifically dated and located events, without distortion, hy- 

Karl Schmidt has discussed the scientific versus the naive conception of fact, 
in his article, "The Existential Status of Facts and Laws in Physics, The Uonist, 
XLIII (1933), 2: 1«1-172. 

« Held at Harvard University m the autumn of 1940. 


pothesis, or interpretation — the faith in tlie attainability and 
value of pure fact is that surest symptom; the ideal of truth 
which made the whole past generation of historians believe 
that in archives as such there was salvation. 

Now this ideal may be as extravagant as Carl Becker es- 
teemed it, when he wrote: "Hoping to find something without 
looking for it, expecting to obtain final answers to life's riddle 
by resdutely refusing to ask questions — it was surely the most 
romantic species of realism yet invented, the oddest attempt 
ever made to get something for nothing!" But it does sum 
up the att'tude of that mighty and rather terrible person, the 
Modern Man, toward the world: the complete submission to 
what he conceives as "hard, cold fact." To exchange fictions, 
faiths, and "constructed systems" for facts is his supreme 
value; hence his periodic outbursts of "debunking" traditions, 
religious or legendary; his satisfaction with stark realism in 
literature, his suspicion and impatience of poetry; and per- 
haps, on the naive uncritical level of the average mentality, 
the passion for news — news of any sort, if only it purports to 
be so: which, paradoxically enough, makes us peculiarly easy 
victims to propaganda. Where a former age would have 
judged persuasive oratory largely on its origins in God or 
Devil, i.e. in the right or the wrong camp, we profess to 
judge it on the merit of alleged facts, and fall to the party that 
can muste'- the most spectacular "cases." 

The better minds of our age hold a heroic pride in being 
iinafr^'d cf truth, in wanting to face it and being able to "take 
it." WiI!iT.m James, whose feeling was really rooted deeply in 
the old order of traditional "values," and bound to religious 
myths of Providence, progress, and the pilerim soul, neverthe- 
less had to cast his lot for the new ideal. His famous distinc- 
tion between "tender-minded" and "tough-minded" philoso- 
phers and his praise of the latter, the truer breed, mark his 
confession of the new faith, despite his occasional nostalgic 
pleas for a "will to believe," for "life's ideals." The same 
sense of heroism, not to say heroics, rings in almost every 
paragraph of Bertrand Russell's early essay, A Free Man's 
Worship; i*save that this thrilling disillusionment this nobler 
worship of "hard fact," is never spoiled by any flirtation with 
the old gods. James's generation (at least its best souls, of 
whom he was one) could take the new standard of truth; 
Russell's generation can take it and like it. As for the children 

"Everyman His Own Historian," American Historical Review, XXXVII 
(1932). 2: 221-236. Sec p. 233. 

"In Mysticism and Logic (New York; W. W. Norton & Co., 1929; first pub- 
lished in 1918). 



of the present age, they know no other measure, for fact-find- 
ing has become their common sense. Their unconscious ori- 
entation is empirical, circumstantial, and historical. 

It is the historical mind, rather than the scientific (in the 
physicist's sense), that destroyed the mythical orientation of 
European culture; the historian, not the mathematician, in- 
troduced the "higher criticism," the standard of actual fact. 
It is he who is the real apostle of the realistic age. Science 
builds its structure of hypothetical "elements" and laws of 
their behavior, touching on reality at crucial points, and if aU 
those propositions which ought to correspond to observable 
events can be "cashed in" for the proper sense-experiences, 
the hypotheses that frame them stand acknowledged. But the 
historian does not locate known facts in a hypothetical, gen- 
eral pattern of processes; his aim is to link fact to fact, one 
unique knowable event to another individual one that begot it. 
Not soace and time, but a geographical place and a date, B.C. 
or A.D., anchor his propositions to reality. Science has be- 
come deeply tinged with empiricism, and vet its ideal is one 
of universality, formalism, |5ermanence — the very ideal that 
presided over its long life since the days of Euclid and Archi- 
medes. The fact that it has shared the intellectual growth of 
the modern world is rather a mark of the continuity of human 
thought, the power of rationality to cope gradually with phase 
after phase of experience, than a novel departure. Science is 
almost as old as European culture; but history (not contem- 
poraneous chronicle and genealogy, but epochal, long-range 
history) is only a few hundred years old; it is peculiarly a 
product of the realistic phase, the adult stafe of judgment. 

In a recent book entitled History and Science, Dr. Hugh 
Miller proposes to carry the ideal of complete factual knowl- 
edge even into the camp of the mathematical sciences. He re- 
gards the factual standard of knowledge in the light of a new 
generative idea; physical science, if perfected, should describe 
a system of reality in which each event would be uniquely de- 
termined, and the pattern of the physical world would appear 
as an evolution, fitting exactly the actual course of natural his- 
tory. "The doctrine of evolution," he says, "is somet'mes 
called a 'theory of evolution,' as if it were just one more theo- 
retical hypothesis, and not a reorientation of all theoretical 
knowledge toward historical fact." i^Here is the realistic ideal 
with a vengeance! 

Underlving these great intellectual structures — science, his- 

«Hugh MiHer, History and Science (Berkeley: University of California Press- 
I'JSQ), p. 30. 



tory, and the hybrid we call "natural history" — is the domi- 
nant principle that rules our individual minds, the implicit 
belief in causation. On this belief we base our personal hopes 
and fears, our plans and techniques of action. It really rules 
our minds, for it inspires what I have called our "practical 
vision" — the carving out of general concepts in such a way 
that temporal events shall answer to a certain number of our 
images, which therefore function both as symbols of thought 
and as signs for behavior. The tendency to demand ever more 
signs to replace symbols at certain terminals of thought, more 
symbols to direct one to expect new signs, makes our lives 
more and more factual, intellectually strenuous, wedded to the 
march of mundane events, and beset by disconcerting sur- 
prises. Our increasing command of causal laws makes for 
more and more complicated activities; we have put many 
stages of artifice and device, of manufacture and alteration, 
between ourselves and the rest of nature. The ordinary city- 
dweller knows nothing of the earth's productivity; he does 
not know the sunrise and rarely notices when the sun sets; 
ask him in what phase the moon is, or when the tide in the 
harbor is high, or even how high the average tide runs, and 
likely as not he cannot answer you. Seed-time and harvest are 
nothing to him. If he has never witnessed an earthquake, a 
great flood, or a hurricane, he probably does not feel the power 
of nature as a reality surrounding his life at all. His realities 
are the motors that run elevators, subway trains, and cars, the 
steady feed of water and gas through the mains and of elec- 
tricity over the wires, the crates of food-stuff that arrive by 
night and are spread for his inspection before his day begins, 
the concrete and brick, bright steel and dingy woodwork that 
take the place of earth and waterside and sheltering roof for 
him. His "house" is an apartment in the great man-made city; 
so far as he is concerned, it has only an interior, no exterior of 
its own. It could not collapse, let in rain, or blow away. If it 
leaks the fault is with a pipe or with the people upstairs, not 
with heaven. 

Nature, as man has always known it, he knows no more. 
Since he has learned to esteem signs above symbols, to suppress 
his emotional reactions in favor of practical ones and make 
use of nature instead of holding so much of it sacred, he has 
altered the face, if not the heart, of reality. His parks are 
"landscaped," and fitted into his world of pavements and 
walls; his pleasure resorts are "developments" in which a 
wild field looks unformed, unreal; even his animals (dogs 



and cats are ail he knows as creatures, horses are parts of 
milk-wagons) are fantastic "breeds" made by his tampering. 
No wonder, then, that he thinks of human power as the high- 
est power, and of nature as so much "raw material"! But 
human power is knowledj^e. he knows that; the knowledge of 
natui-a' facts and the scientific laws of their transformation. 

With his new outlook on the world, of course the old sjm- 
boUsm of human values has collapsed. The sun is too inter- 
esting as an obiect, a source of transformable energies, to be 
interpreted as a god, a hero, or a symbol of passion ; since we 
Icnow that it is really the ultimate source of what we call 
"power." transformable energy measurable by units, we take 
a real 'Stic, not a mystical, attitude toward it; its image is no 
longer "distanced" in a perspective of non-discursive thought; 
our literal concepts have caught up with it. As for the moon, 
it is too rarely seen to be a real presence to us, and fits too 
well into the cosmological scheme governed by science to 
arouse wonder. We read about its beauties, more often than 
we actually see them unchallenged by neon-lights or blinking 
bulbs. The earth, laid bare in buildine-Iots or Darks, does not 
put forth unplanted life, as it always did for the savage; only 
our farmers — a small portion of mankind — know "Mother 
Earth" any longer; only our sailors — a still smaller portion — 
know the might of a raging sea. To most people, the ancient, 
obvious svmbols of nature have become literarv figures, and to 
many these very figures look silly. Their significance has been 
dissolved by a more mature, literal-minded conceotion of real- 
ity, the "oractica! vision" that sees sun and moon and earth, 
land and sea, growth and destruction, in terms of natural law 
and historical fact. 

The modem mind is an incredible comiplex of impressions 
and transformations; and its product is a fabric of meanings 
that would make the most elaborate dream of the most ambi- 
tious tapestry-weaver look like a mat. The warp of that fabric 
consists of what we call "data," the signs to which experience 
has conditioned us to attend, and upon which we act often 
without any conscious ideation. The woof is symbolism. Out 
of signs and symbols we weave our tissue of "reality." 

Signs themselves may be very complicated and form intri- 
cate chains ; many signs are nameless, and linked into continu- 
ous situations, to which we react not with a single deed, but 
with a steady, intelUgent behavior. Driving an automobile is 
an example of such a chain of reactions to signs. It is not a 
habitual -ift, thoueh every individual response in it is a reac- 



tion to a certain sort of sign, facilitated by practice. The only 
single habit involved in the whole process is the habit of con- 
stantly obeying signs. A moment of yielding to habitual mo- 
tions, as in distraction or stupor, is likely to wreck the car. We 
Ccin drive without thinking, but never without watching. 

Our response to a sign becomes, in its turn, a sign of a 
new situation; the meaning of the first sign, having been 
"cashed in," has become a context for the next sign. This 
gives us that continuity of actual experience which makes it 
the sturdy warp of reality, through which we draw the con- 
necting and transforming woof -threads of conception. 

As in an elaborate tapestry one often cannot tell how the 
fibers are involved with each other, so any namable item of 
reality may stem from a signific experience and enter into the 
role of a symbol, or a symbolic element, e.g., a word, uttered 
on an occasion, may act momentarily as a sign. Language is 
symbolical, but in communication it does more than express 
conceptions; it describes, but it also points. Whenever we 
talk in the present tense, saying: "Here is — ," "Over there is 
— ," "Look out," "1 thank you," etc., we signify the realities 
to which our propositions apply. This signific function of 
language has become incorporated in its very structure; for in 
every proposition there is at least one word — the verb — which 
has the double function of combining the elements named into 
one prepositional form, and asserting the proposition, i.e. re- 
ferring the form to something in reality. It is because of this 
implicit function of assertion, involved in the very meaning of 
a true verb, that every proposition is true or false. A symbol 
that merely expresses a concept, e.g. an image or a name, is 
neither true nor false, though it is significant. 

Sign and symbol are knotted together in the production of 
those fixed realities that we call "facts," as I think this whole 
study of semantic has shown. But between the facts run the 
threads of unrecorded reality, momentarily recognized, wher- 
ever they come to the surface, in our tacit adaptation to signs; 
and the bright, twisted threads of symbolic envisagement, 
imagination, thought — memory and reconstructed memory, be- 
lief beyond experience, dream, make-believe, hypothesis, 
philosophy — the whole creative process of ideation, meta- 
phor, and abstraction that makes human life an adventure in 

It is the woof-thread that creates the pattern of a fabric, how- 
beit the warp may be used here and there to vary it, too. The 
meanings which are capable of indefinite growth are symbolic 



meanings: connotations, not significations. There are two fun- 
damental types of symbolism, discursive and presentational; 
but the types of meaning are far more numerous, and do not 
necessarily correspond to one or the other symbolic type, 
though in a general way literal meaning belongs to words and 
artistic meaning to images invoked by words and to presenta- 
tional symbols. But such a rule is a crude, simplified, and very 
inexact statement. Maps, photographs, and diagrams are pres- 
entational symbols with purely literal significance; a poem has 
essentially artistic significance, though a great factor in its 
complex, global form is discursive statement. The sense of a 
word may hover between literal and figurative meaning, as 
expressions that were originally frank metaphors "fade" to a 
general and ultimately literal meaning. For instance, our news- 
papers overwork such figurative expressions as: "Candidate 
Raps Opponent," "Mayor Flays Council," "Scores New Deal- 
ers at Meeting." These words were originally strong meta- 
phors; but we have learned to read them as mere synonyms 
for "scolds." *® We still know them as figurative expressions, 
but they are rapidly acquiring a dual meaning, e.g. "To flay: 
(1) to remove the skin; (2) to criticize harshly." 

Every word has a history, and has probably passed through 
stages where its most important significance lay in associations 
it no longer has, uses now obsolete, doubles entendres we 
would not understand. Even the English of Shakespeare has 
changed its color since it was written, and is lucid only to the 
historian who knows its setting. Sometimes a word of general 
import becomes a "technical term" and is practically lost to its 
former place in the language; sometimes a preeminent denota- 
tion narrows it again to a proper name (as for instance "Oiym- 
pos," literally a high mountain, became the name of a certain 
mountain; and "Adam," first "man," then by abstraction, 
"Man," is to us the name of a certain man). And through all 
the metamorphoses of its meaning, such a word carries a cer- 
tain trace of every meaning it has ever had, like an overtone, 
and every association it has acquired, like an aura, so that in 
living language practically no word is a purely conventional 
counter, but always a symbol with a "metaphysical pathos," as 
Professor Lovejoy has called it. Its meaning depends partly on 

American English is full of such transient figures, passing swiftly frorn one 
litpril meaning to another, by the twin bridges nf literary clevice and popular slang. 
Perhaps the new country, the new race springing from a medley oi nationalities, 
the new culture in its rapid growth, cause this instability of language, ten- 
dency to extravagant metaphorical expression and the willingness of people to 
interpret and accept quite extreme figures of speech. Certainly no European lan- 
guage — not even the highly idiomatic French — is as rich in slang, la fashions, m 
informal expre.«sive jargon, as our American dialect. 



social convention, and partly on its history, its past company, 
even on the "natural symbolism" or suggest! veness of its 

The intellect which understands, reshapes, and employs lin- 
guistic symbols, and at the same time tempers its activities to 
the exigencies of ever-passing, signific experience, really works 
with a minimum of actual perception or formal judgment. As 
Roger Fry has put it, "The needs of our actual life are so im- 
perative, that the sense of vision becomes highly specialized in 
their service. With an admirable economy we see only so much 
as is needful for our purposes; but this is in fact very little, 
just enough to recognize and identify each object or person; 
that done, they go into our mental catalogue and are no more 
really seen. In actual life the normal person really only reads 
the labels as it were on the objects around him and troubles no 
further. Almost all the things which are useful in any way 
put on more or less this cap of invisibility." Signs and dis- 
cursive symbols are the stock-in-trade of conscious intelligent 
adjustment, and they are telescoped into such small cues of 
perception and denotation that we are tempted to believe our 
thought moves without images or words. The tiniest black 
spot of a certain shiny quality tells us that the cat is under the 
sofa with just its tail-tip showing. The word "cat," or a mo- 
mentary, fragmentary image may be all that comes into our 
mind in recognition. Yet if someone asks us later: "Where's 
the cat?" we do not hesitate to answer: "I saw him under the 
sofa." By such signals we steer our course through the world 
of sense, and by one-word contacts we throw whole systems of 
judgment, belief, memory, and expectation into action. 

Yet all these familiar signs and abbreviated symbols have 
to be supported by a vast intellectual structure in order to 
function so smoothly that we are almost unaware of them; 
and this structure is composed of their full articulate forms 
and all their implicit relationships, which may be exhumed 
from the stock of our buried knowledge at any time. Because 
they do fit so neatly into the frame of our ultimate world-pic- 
ture, we can think with them and do not have to think about 
them; but our full apprehension of them is really only sup- 
pressed. They wear a "cap of invisibility" when, like good 
servants, they perform their tasks for our convenience without 
being evident in themselves. Yet all our signs and symbols 
were gathered from sensuous and emotional experience and 
bear the marks of their origin — perhaps a remote historical 

''Fry, Vision and Dr sign, pp. 24-25. 


origin. Though we ordinarily see things only with the economy 
of practical vision, we can look at them instead of through 
them, and then their suppressed forms and their unusual 
meanings emerge for us. It is just because there is a fund of 
possible meanings in every familiar form, that the picture of 
reality holds together for us, that we believe in the ultimate 
causal connection of all physical nature and the ultimate co- 
herence of moral demands. A form that is both sign and sjmi- 
bol ties action and insight together for us; it plays a part in a 
momentary situation and also in the "science" we constantly, 
if tacitly, assume. A fine sunset demonstrates the earth's rota- 
tion with relation to the sun, marks a "time of day," signifies 
that dinner is ready or should be so, suggests continued fair 
weather, and also is sublime, peaceful, and beautiful. The 
chances are that most observers will take all its significations 
for granted and attend to its aesthetic significance only. Yet 
its reality in "nature" is a factor of that significance; were the 
display a product of screen and camera, it would lack its 
vague, traditional, religious meaning, and affect one very dif- 
ferently. It might be beautiful but not sublime. The interplay 
of beauty and reality, of spectacular color in empty air, lends 
it that cosmic importance which permeates our very vision of it. 

Many symbols — not only words, but other forms — may be 
said to be "charged" with meanings. They have many sym- 
bolic and signific functions, and these functions have been 
integrated into a complex so that they are all apt to be sym- 
pathetically invoked with any chosen one. The cross is such 
a "charged" symbol: the actual instrument of Christ's death, 
hence a symbol of suffering; first laid on his shoulders, an 
actual burden, as well as an actual product of human handi- 
work, and on both grounds a symbol of his accepted moral 
burden; also an ancient symbol of the four zodiac points, with 
a cosmic connotation; a "natural" symbol of cross-roads (we 
still use it on our highways as a warning before an intersec- 
tion), and therefore of decision, crisis, choice; also of being 
crossed, i.e of frustration, adversity, fate; and finally, to the 
artistic eye a cross is the figure of a man. All these and many 
other meanings lie dormant in that simple, familiar, signifi- 
cant shape. No wonder that it is a magical form ! It is charged 
with meanings, all human and emotional and vaguely cosmic 
so that they have become integrated into a connotation of the 
whole religious drama — sin, suffering, and redemption. Yet 
undoubtedly the cross owes much of its value to the fact that 
it has the physical attributes of a good symbol: it is easily 


made — drawn on paper, set up in wood or stone, fashioned 
of precious substance as an amulet, even traced recognizably 
with a finger, in a ritual gesture. It is so obvious a symbolic 
device that despite its holy connotations we do not refrain 
from using it in purely mundane, discursive capacities, as the 
sign of "plus," or in tilted position as "times," or as a marker 
on ballot sheets and many other kinds of record. 

There are many "charged" symbols in our thought, though 
few that play as many popular roles as the cross. A ship is 
another example — the image of precarious security in all-sur- 
rounding danger, of progress toward a goal, of adventure be- 
tween two points of rest, with the near, if dormant, connota- 
tion of safe imprisonment in the hold, as in the womb. Not 
improbably the similar form of a primitive boat and of the 
moon in its last quarter has served in past ages to reinforce 
such mythological values. 

The fact that very few of our words are purely technical, 
and few of our images purely utilitarian, gives our lives a 
background of closely woven multiple meanings against which 
all conscious experiences and interpretations are measured. 
Every obiect that emerges into the focus of attention has 
meaning beyond the "fact" in which it figures. It serves by 
turns, and sometimes even at once, for insieht and theory and 
behavior, in non-discursive knowledge and discursive reason, 
in wishful fancy, or as a sign eliciting conditioned-reflex ac- 
tion. But that means that we respond to every new datum with 
a complex of mental functions. Our perception organizes it, 
giving it an individual definite Gestalt. Non-discursive intelli- 
gence, reading emotive import into the concrete form, meets 
it with purely sensitive appreciation ; and even more promptly, 
the language-habit causes us to assimilate it to some literal 
concept and give it a place in discursive thought. Here is a 
crossing of two activities: for discursive symbolism is always 
general, and requires application to the concrete datum, 
whereas non-discursive symbolism is specific, is the "given" 
itself, and invites us to read the more general meaning out of 
the case. Hence the exciting back-and-forth of real mental life, 
of living by symbols. We play on words, explore their connota- 
tions, evoke or evade their associations; we identify signs 
with our symbols and construct the "intelligible world"; we 
dream our needs and fantasms and construct the "inner world" 
of unapplied symbols. We impress each other, too, and build a 
social structure, a world of right and wrong, of demands and 



Because our moral life is negotiated so largely by symbols, 
it is more oppressive than the morality of animals. Beasts have 
their moral relations, too; they control each other's actions 
jealously or permit them patiently, as a dog permits her pup- 
pies to bite and worry her, but growls at another dog that 
trespasses on her premises. But animals react only to the deed 
that is done or is actually imminent; they use force only to 
frustrate or avenge an act; whereas we control each other's 
merely incipient behavior with fantasies of force. We employ 
sanctions, threaten vague penalties, and try to forestall of- 
fenses by merely exhibiting the symbols of their consequences. 
That is why man is more cruel than any beast. We make our 
punishments effective as mere connotations, and to do so we 
have to make them disproportionately harsh. Misdemeanors 
that merit no more than a serious rebuke or a half-hour in jail 
have to carry a penalty of a month's imprisonment if the very 
thought of the punishment is to prevent them. Then, because 
symbols have to have reference to fact if they are to remain 
forceful at all, wherever the threat has not served as a deter- 
rent it has to be fulfilled. And more than that; the power of 
symbols enables us not only to limit each other's actions, but 
to command them; not only to restrain one another, but to 
constrain. That makes the weaker not merely the timid re- 
specter of the strong, but his servant. It gives us duty, con- 
scription, and slavery. The story of man's martyrdom is a 
sequel to the story of his intelligence, his power of symbolical 

For good or evil, man has this power of envisagement, 
which puts on him a burden that purely alert, realistic creatures 
do not bear — the burden of understanding. He lives not only 
in a place, but in Space; not only at a time, but in History. 
So he must conceive a world and a law of the world, a pat- 
tern of life, and a way of meeting death. All these things he 
knows, and he has to make some adaptation to their reality. 

Now, he can adapt himself somehow to anything his imagi- 
nation can cope with; but he cannot deal with Chaos. Because 
his characteristic function and highest asset is conception, his 
greatest fright is to meet what he cannot construe — the "un- 
canny," as it is popularly called. It need not be a new object; 
we do meet new things, and understand" them promptly, if 
tentatively, by the nearest analogy, when our minds are func- 
tioning freely; but under mental stress even perfectly familiar 
^hin^js may become suddenly disorganized, and give us the 

-•■ors. Therefore our most important assets are always the 


symbols of our general orientation in nature, on the earth, in 
society, and in what we are doing: the symbols of our Weltan- 
schauung and Lebensanschauung. Consequently, in primitive 
society, a daily ritual is incorporated in common activities, in 
eating, washing, fire-making, etc., as well as in pure cere- 
monial : because the need of reasserting the tribal morale and 
recognizing its cosmic conditions is constantly felt. In Chris- 
tian Europe the Church brought men daily (in some orders 
even hourly) to their knees, to enact if not to contemplate 
their assent to the ultimate concepts. 

In modern society such exercises are all but lost. Every per- 
son finds his Holy of Holies where he may: in Scientific 
Truth, Evolution, the State, Democracy, Kultur, or some meta- 
physical word like "the All" or "the Spiritual." Human life 
in our age is so changed and diversified that people cannot 
share a few, historic, "charged" symbols that have about the 
same wealth of meaning for everybody. This loss of old uni- 
versal symbols endangers our safe unconscious or'entat'on. 
The new forms of our new order have not yet acquired that 
rich, confused, historic accretion of meanings that makes 
many familiar things "charged" symbols to which we seem to 
respond instinctively. For some future generation, an aeroplane 
may be a more powerful symbol than a ship; its poetic pos- 
sibilities are perhaps even more obvious; but to us it is too 
new, it does not sum up our past in guarantee of the present. 
One can see this in the conscious symbol it presents to Marcel 
Proust, in La Prisonniere, as "one of these frankly material 
vehicles to explore the Infinite." Poetic simile, not spontaneous 
metaphor, is its status as yet; it is not a repository of experi- 
ence, as nature-symbols and social symbols are. And virtually 
all the realities of our modern life are thus new, their material 
aspects are predominant, practical insight still has to cope with 
them instead of taking them for granted. Therefore our intel- 
Ugence is keen but precarious; it lacks metaphysical myth, 
regime, and ritual expression. 

There are relatively few people today who are born to an 
environment which gives them spiritual support. Only persons 
of some imagination and effective intelligence can picture such 
an environment and deliberately seek it. They are the few who 
feel drawn to some realm of reality that contains their ultimate 
life-symbols and dictates activities which may acquire ritual 
value. Men who follow the sea have often a deep love for 
that hard life, which no catalogue of its practical virtues can 
account for. But in their dangerous calling they feel secure; in 



their comfortless quarters they are at ease. Waters and ships, 
heaven and storm and harbor, somehow contain the symbols 
through which they see meaning and sense in the world, a 
"justification," as we call it, of trouble, a unified conception 
of life whereby it can be rationally lived. Any man who loves 
his calling loves it for more than its use; he loves it because 
it seems to have "meaning." A scholar who will defy the world 
in order to write or speak what he knows as "scientific truth," 
the Greek philosopher who chose to die rather than protest 
against Athens, the feminists to whom woman-suffrage was a 
"cause" for which they accepted ridicule as well as punish- 
ment, show how entirely realistic performances may point be- 
yond themselves, and acquire the value of super-personal acts, 
like rites. They are the forms of devotion that have replaced 
genuflexions, sacrifices, and solemn dances. 

A mind that is oriented, no matter by what conscious or un- 
conscious symbols, in material and social realities, can function 
freely and confidently even under great pressure of circum- 
stance and in the face of hard problems. Its life is a smooth 
and skillful shuttling to and fro between sign-functions and 
symbolic functions, a steady interweaving of sensory interpre- 
tations, linguistic responses, inferences, memories, imaginative 
prevision, factual knowledge, and tacit appreciations. Dreams 
can possess it at night and work off the heaviest load of self- 
expressive needs, and evaporate before the light of day; its 
further self-expressions being woven intelligently into the 
nexus of practical behavior. Ritual comes to it as a natural 
response to the "holiness" or importance of real occasions. In 
such a mind, doubts of the "meaning of life" are not apt to 
arise, for reality itself is intrinsically "meaningful": it incor- 
porates the symbols of Life and Death, Sin and Salvation. For 
a balanced active intelligence, reality is historical fact and sig- 
nificant form, the all-inclusive realm of science, myth, art, and 
comfortable common sense. 

Opportunity to carry on our natural, impulsive, intelligent 
life, to realize plans, express ideas in action or in symbolic 
formulation, see and hear and interpret all things that we en- 
counter, without fear of confusion, adjust our interests and ex- 
pressions to each other, is the "freedom" for which humanity 
strives. This, and not some specific right that society may grant 
or deny, is the "liberty" that goes necessarily with "life" and 
"pursuit of happiness." Professor Whitehead expressed this 
view precisely, when he said: 

"The concept of freedom has been narrowed to the picture 



of contemplative people shocking their generation. . . . This 
is a thorough mistake. The massive habits of ohysical nature, 

its iron laws, determine the scene for the sufferings of men. 
Birth and death, cold and hunger, separation, disease, the gen- 
eral impracticability of purpose, all bring their quota to im- 
prison the souls of women and men. Our experiences do not 
keep step with our hopes. . . . The essence of freedom is the 
practicability of purpose. Mankind has chiefly suffered from 
the frustration of its prevalent purposes, even such as belong 
to the very definition of its species. " '^^ 

Any miscarriage of the symbolic process is an abrogation of 
our human freedom: the constraint imposed by a foreign lan- 
guage, or a lapse of one's own linguistic ability such as Sir 
Henry Head has described as loss of abstract concetDts,!* or 
pathological repression that causes all sorts of distorted per- 
sonal symbols to encroach on literal thought and empirical 
judgment, or lack of logical power, knowledge, food for 
thoupht, or imagination to envisage our problems clearly and 
negot'fbly. All such obstacles may block the free functioning 
of mind. But the most disastrous hindrance is disorientation, 
the failure or destruction of life-symbols and loss or repres- 
sion of votive acts. A life that does not incorporate some de- 
gree of ritual, of gesture and attitude, has no mental anchor- 
age. It is prosaic to the point of total indifference, purely 
casual, devoid of that structure of intellect and feeling which 
we call "personality." 

Therefore interference with acts that have ritual value 
Cconscious or unconscious) is always felt as the most intoler- 
able injury one man, or group of men, can do to another. 
Freedom of conscience is the basis of all personal freedom. 
To constrain a man against his principles — make a pacifist 
bear arms, a patriot insult his flag, a pagan receive baptism — 
is to endanger his attitude toward the world, his personal 
strength and single-mindedness. No matter how fantastic may 
be the dogmas he holds sacred, how much his living rites con- 
flict with the will or convenience of society, it is never a light 
matter to demand their violation. Men fight passionately 
against being forced to do lip-service, because the enactment 
of a rite is always, in some measure, assent to its meaning; 
so that the very expression of an alien mythology, incompat'ble 
with one's own vision of "fact" or "truth," works to the cor- 

From A. N. Whitehead, Advenlures of Ideas (Sew York, 1933), p. 84. 
(Italics mine.) By permission '^f The M^cmillan Company, publishers. 

See "Disorders of Symbolic Thinking and Expression," British Journ^ 9f 
Psychology, XI (1920-21), part II, 179-193. 



ruption of that vision. It is a breach of oersonaiity. To be 
obhged to confess, teach, or acclaim falsehood is always felt 
as an insult exceeding even ridicule and abuse. Common in- 
sult is a blow at one's ego; but constraint of conscience strikes 
at one's ego and super-ego, one's whole world, humanity, and 
purpose. It takes a strong mind to keep its orientation without 
overt symbols, acts, assertions, and social corroborations; to 
maintain it in the face of the confounding pattern of enacted 
heresy is more than average mentality can do. 

We have to adapt our peculiarly human mental functions — 
— our symbolic functions — to given limitations, exactly as we 
must adapt all our biological activities. The mind, like all 
other organs, can draw its sustenance only from the surround- 
ing world: our metaphysical symbols must spring from real'ty. 
Such adaptation always requires time, habit, trad'tion, and inti- 
mate knowledge of a way of life. If, now, the field of our un- 
conscious symbolic orientation is suddenly plowed up by tre- 
mendous changes in the external world and in the social order, 
we lose our hold, our convictions, and therewith our effectual 
purposes. In modern civilization there are two great threats 
to mental security: the new mode of living, which has made 
the old nature-symbols alien to our minds, and the new mode 
of working, which makes personal actVity meaningless, in- 
acceptable to the hungry imagination. Most men never see the 
goods they produce, but stand by a traveling be't and turn a 
million identical passing screws or close a million identical 
passing wrappers in a succession of hours, days, years. This 
sort of activity is too poor, too emoty, for even the most in- 
genious mind to invest it with symbolic content. Work is no 
longer a sphere of ritual; and so the nearest and surest source 
of mental satisfaction has dried up. At the same time, the 
displacement of the permanent homestead by the modem 
rented tenement — now here, now there — has cut another an- 
chor-line of the human mind. Most people have no home that 
is a symbol of their childhood, not even a definite memory of 
one place to serve that purpose. Many no longer know the 
language that was once their mother-tongue. All old symbols 
are gone, and thousands of average hves offer no new ma- 
terials to a creative imagination. This, rather than physical 
want, is the starvation that threatens the modern worker, the 
tyranny of the machine. The withdrawal of all natural means 
for expressing the unity of personal life is a major cause of 
the distraction, irreligion, and unrest that mark the proletariat 


of all countries. Technical progress is putting man's freedom 

of mind in jeopardy. 

In such a time people are excited about any general con- 
victions or ideals they may have. Numberless hybrid religions 
spring up, mysteries, causes, ideologies, all passionately em- 
braced and badly argued. A vague longing for the old tribal 
unity makes nationalism look like salvation, and arouses the 
most fantastic bursts of chauvinism and self-righteousness; the 
wildest anthropological and historical legends; the depreca- 
tion and distortion of learning; and in place of orthodox ser- 
mons, that systematic purveying of loose, half-baked ideas 
which our generation knows as "propaganda." There are com- 
mittees and ministries of propaganda in our world, as there 
were evangelical missions and watch-and-ward societies in the 
world of our fathers. No wonder that philosophers looking at 
this pandemonium of self-assertion, self-justification, and so- 
cial and political fantasy, view it as a reaction against the Age 
of Reason. After centuries of science and progress, they con- 
clude, the pendulum swings the other way: the irrational 
forces of our animal nature must hold their Witches' Sabbath. 

A philosophy that knows only deductive or inductive logic 
as reason, and classes all other human functions as "emotive," 
irrational, and animalian, can see only regression to a prelogi- 
cal state in the present passionate and unscientific ideologies. 
All it can show us as the approach to Parnassus is the way of 
factual data, hypothesis, trial, judgment, and generalization. 
All other things our minds do are dismissed as irrelevant to 
intellectual progress ; they are residues, emotional disturbances, 
or throwbacks to animal estate. 

But a theory of mind whose keynote is the symbolific func- 
tion, whose problem is the morphology of significance, is not 
obliged to draw that bifurcating line between science and 
folly. It can see these ructions and upheavals of the modem 
mind not as lapses of rational interest, caused by animal im- 
pulse, but as the exact contrary — as a new phase of savage- 
dom, indeed, but inspired by the rational need of envisage- 
ment and understanding. The springs of European thought 
have run dry — those deep springs of imagination that furnish 
the basic concepts for a whole intellectual order, the first dis- 
cernments, the generative ideas of our Weltanschauung. New 
conceptual forms are crowding them out, but are themselves 
in the mythical phase, the "implicit" stage of symbolic formu- 
lation. We cannot analyze the contents of those vast symbols — 
Race, Unity, Manifest Destiny, Humanity — over which we 

fight S» ruthlessly; if we could, it would mean tfiat tiiey were 
already furnishing discursive terms, clear issues, and we would 
all be busy philosophizing instead of waging holy wars. We 
would have the new world that humanity is dreaming of, and 
would be eagerly building the edifice of knowledge out of new 
insights. It is the sane, efficient, work-a-day business of free 
minds — discursive reasoning about well-conceived problems — 
that is disturbed or actually suspended in this apparent age 
of unreason; but the force which governs that age is still the 
force of mind, the impulse toward symbolic formulation, ex- 
pression, and understanding of experience. 

The continual pursuit of meanings — wider, clearer, more 
negotiable, more articulate meanings — is philosophy. It per- 
meates all mental life: sometimes in the conscious form of 
metaphysical thought, sometimes in the free, confident manipu- 
lation of established ideas to derive their more precise, detailed 
implications, and sometimes — in the greatest creative periods 
— in the form of passionate mythical, ritual, and devotional 
expression. In primitive society such expression meets with 
little or no obstacle; for the first dawn of mentality has noth- 
ing to regret. Only as one culture supersedes another, every 
new insight is bought with the life of an older certainty. The 
confusion of form and content which characterizes our wor- 
ship of life-symbols works to the frustration of well-ordered 
discursive reason, men act inappropriately, blindly, and vi- 
ciously: but what they are thus wildly and mistakenly trying 
to do is human, intellectual, and necessary. Standards of sci- 
ence and ethics must condemn it, for its overt form is rife with 
error; traditional philosophy must despair of it because it can- 
not meet any epistemological criterion; but in a wider philoso- 
phy of symbolism it finds a measure of understanding. If there 
is any virtue in the theory of what I have called "symbolic 
transformation," then this theory should elucidate not only the 
achievements of that function, but also its miscarriages, its 
limitations, and its by-products of illusion and error. Freedom 
of thought cannot be reborn without throes; language, art, 
morality, and science have all given us pain as well as power. 
For, as Professor Whitehead has frankly and humbly declared: 
"Error is the price we pay for progress." 


Passages Mom the following works have been quoted in this book: 
from The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller, by permission of Double- 
day, Doran & Company; from TractatusLogico-Philosophicus, by Lud- 
wig Wittgenstein, The Growth of Reason, by Frank Lorimer, The 
Mentality of Apes, by Wolfgang Kohler, and The Tyranny of Words, 
by Stuart Chase, by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Company, pub- 
lishers ; from The Ape and The Child, by W. N. and L. A, Kellogg, by 
permission of McGraw-Hill Book Company, publishers; from "How 
Can Music Express Emotion?" by Donald N. Ferguson, reprinted by 
permission from the Music Teachers National Association Volume of 
Proceedings for 1925; from "Observations on the Mentality of Chim- 
panzees and Orang-Utans," by W. H. Furness, courtesy of the Ameri- 
can Philosophical Society; from "Musical Symbolism," by Henri Pru- 
nieres, by permission of The Musical Quarterly; from Philosophy and 
Mysticism and Logic by Bertrand Russell, courtesy of W. W. Norton 
and Company, publishers; from "Reason and Feeling," by J. E. Creigh- 
ton, by permission of The Philosophical Review; from Gestalt Psy- 
chology, by Wolfgang Kohler, courtesy Liveright Publishing Corpora- 
tion ; from Oceanic Mythology, by Roland Dixon, by permission of the 
Marshall Jones Company; from Primitive Culture, by E. B. Tylor, 
courtesy of G. P. Putnam's Sons; from Speech: its Function and Devel- 
opment, by Grace De Laguna, by permission of the Yale University 
Press ; from Experience and Nature, by John Dewey, Open Court Pub- 
lishing Company; from Five Stages of Greek Religion, by Gilbert 
Murray, Columbia University Press, publisher. 

My thanks are due to all these copyright holders, 

I also wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the following English 
publishers: to George Allen & Unwin, for passages from Language and 
Reality, by W. M. Urban, and Language: its Nature, Development and 
Origin, by Otto Jespersen; to Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Com- 
pany, for passages from Philosophy and Logical Syntax, by Rudolf 
Carnap, Communication: a Philosophical Study of Language, by Karl 
Britton, and Art and the Unconscious, by J. M. Thorburn; to Chatto 
and Windus, for some lines from Vision and Design, by Roger Fry; 
and to the editor of Philosophy, for quotations from "The Sense of the 
Horizon," by C. D. Burns. 


More books are listed here than the reader is likely to find 
in his local bookstore or public library. Among those books 
listed some at least will be easily available. 


The Horizon of Experience by C. D. Burns, W. W.Norton & Co., Inc., 
1934 ; Science and (he Modem World by A. N. Whitehead, The Mac- 
millan Co., 1925. 1946 


Skepticism and Poetry by D. G. James, (London) Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 
1937; The Natural History of the Mind hy A. D. Ritchie, Longmans, 
Green & Co., 1936; Ttie Growth of Reason by Frank Lorimer, Harcourt, 
Brace & Co., Inc., 1929 


Philosophy and Logical Syntax by Rudolf Carnap, (London) Rout- 
ledge & Sons, Ltd., 1935; Signs, Language, and Behavior by Charles 
Morris, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1946; Our Knowledge of the External 
World by Bertrand Russell, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1929 (esp. 
"Logic as the Essence of Philosophy") ; Symbolism : Us Meaning and 
Effect by A. N. Whitehead, The Macmillan Co., 1927 

Gestalt Psychology by Wolfgang Kohler, Boni & Liveright, 1929; Art 
and the Unconscious hy J. M. Thorburn, (London) K. Paul, Trench, 
Trubner & Co., 1925 


Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin by Otto Jespersen, 
Henry Holt & Co., 1922; The Ape and the Child by W. N. and L. A. 
Kellogg, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1933; The Mentality of Apes by 
Wolfgang Kohler. Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc., 1926; Language arid 
Myth by Ernst Cassirer, Harper & Brothers, 1946; Language and 
Reality; the Philosophy of Language and the Principles of Symbolism 
by W. M. Urban, The Macmillan Co., 1939 

Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion by Jane Harrison, The 
Macm'iTlan 'Co. ; Five Stages of Greek Religion by Gilbert Murray, Co- 
lumbia University Press, 1925; The Principles of Religious Ceremonial 
by W. H. Frere, Morehouse Publishing Co., 1928 

Legends of Maui, a Demigod of Polynesia, and of his Mother Hina by 
W. D. Westervelt ; The Mind of Primitive Man by Franz Boas, The 
Macmillan Co., 1911; The Golden Bough by J. G. Frazer, The Mac- 
millan Co., 1907 


A Study in Aesthetics by L. A. Reid. The Macmillan Co., 1931 ; Vision 
and Design by Roger Fry, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1924; The Meaning 
of Music by C. C. Pratt, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1932; /. 5. Bach by 
Albert Schweitzer, The Macmillan Co., 1935; Art and Artist by Otto 
Rank, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1932; On the Beautiful in Music by 
Eduard Hanslick, H. W. Gray Co.; Arts and the Alan by Irwin Edman, 
W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1939 


The Threshold of Music by William Wallace, The Macmillan Co., 
1908: The Birth of Tragedy (in Complete Works)hy Friedrich Nietz- 
sche, The Macmillan Co., 1925; The Spirit of thePorms (V. 5, History 
of Art), by Elie Faure, Harper & Brothers, 1930 

Adventures of Ideas by A. N. Whitehead, The Macmillan Co., 1933 



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abstraction, 14, 28, 58, 74, 75, 103, 
114, 115, 117, 163, 164, 194, 228 
act, 123, 124, 127 
audible—, 101 

expressive — 103, 123, 129n 

religious—, 125, 126 

symbolic — , 93 
AESOP, 141n 
"aesthetic emotion " 21 Off 
aesthetics, 166. 168, 171, 177, 182 
affect, see feeling 
air, 207 


quoted, 179 
ambivalence, 197 
analogy, 113, 117, 184, 188, 199n 
animal activities, 22, 106, 233 

—fable, 141 

— intelligence, 47 

— mind, 24 

— semantic, 50, 84 

—worship, 133, 134, 135 

attributive—, 137 
animals, 21, 23, 25 , 27, 31, 87, 92, 96, 
122, 1^0, 132, 13i 162, 163, 226 
apes, 25 , 84, 85, 86, 89-97 passtm, 

102, 103, 104, ids, 110 
application, 52, 53, 107, 164 
ANDERSEN, J. C, 149n, 150n 
ANDREWS, L., 151n 
appreciation, 79, 210, 232 
architecture, 169 
ARISTOTLE, 4, 6, 58, 124 
art, 28, 83, li6, l4l, 165, 169, 189, 

adequacy in—, 213. 214 
— and artifact, 165 
beginnings of — , Chapter IX pas- 

function of — , 214 
logic of — , 177 

materials of—, 199, 202, 203, 206, 

philosophy of — , 168 
plastic—, 166, 169, 202 
seriousness of — , 29, 30, 167 

articulation, 75 , 95, 124, 163, 166, 
184, 195, 199, 204 

assumption, 1, 2, 19, 22, 70, 80 

attitude, 124, 139, 164, 183, 236 


AVISON, CHARLES, quoted, 173 

AYER, A. J., 16n 

babble, 85, 94, 98, 99, 108 
BACH, C. PH. E., quoted, 174, 180 
BACH, J. S., 169, 178, 188, 215 
BACON, FRANCIS, 10, 11; quoted, 

BADQUIN, CH., 167n 
BAUMANN, O., 84n 
beauty, 165, 166, 169. 185n 
BECKER, CARL, quoted, 224 

169, 174, 182, 197n. 215 
BELL, CLIVE, 195, quoted, 165, 

171n, 210n 
BERGSON, HEXRI, 80, 215 
BERLIOZ, HECTOR, 179, 191n, 


BETHE, E., quoted. 144n 
BOAS, FRANZ, quoted, 40, 108 
BODlilN, A. M., 167n 
BRINTON, D., quoted, 148, .149 
BRITTON, KARL, quoted, 217, 218 
BROWN, J. W., li7n 
BUCHER, KARL, 200n, 207n 
BUHLER, KARL, 59n, 110; quoted, 


180; quoted, 181 

BODDO, 87n 
BURNS, C. D., quoted, 2, 3, 4 

quoted, 67-68, 70. 174-175 

CARXAP, RUDOLF, 17n, 21, 66; 

quoted, 67-68, 70, 174-175 
CASSIRER, ERNST, 16n, 21, 34, 

70; quoted, 199 
causation, 226 
ceremonial, 122, 127, 234 
chaos, 233 

CHASE. STUART, 219; quoted, 27- 

28, 35 
chatter, 25, 94, 99 
CHITS, A. VAN DER, 167n 
childhood, see children 
children, 21, 22, 35, 86, 87, 88, 89, 

98, 99, 100, 102, 120, 122, 126, 

127, 141. 145 
"wild"—, 87, 89, 96, 97, 98 
Christianity, 7, 8, 13 
CLARK, J. v., 148n 

210n, 213 
common .sense, 1, 121, 139, 159, 216 
communication, 97, 103, 105, 111, 

112, 113, 197, 198, 201, 202, 22^ 
composer, 174, 176, 179, 180, 195, 

196, 214 
concept, 3, 4, 6, 10, 14, 18, 58, 62, 

63, 106, 164 
non-scientific, 189 
physical, 74 
concepts and conceptions, 49n, 58, 59, 


conception. 49, 50, 51, 52, 57, 58, 59, 
89, 96, 108, 109, 119, 128, 19^ 
power of, 151 
connotation, 43, 52, 53, 55, 61ff, 112, 

185, 1§8, l95, 208, 224 
context, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 

musical, 170 185 

scientific, 223 
CREIGHTON, J. E.. quoted, 80-81 

dance, 103, 106, 123, 129, 141, 170, 

183, 184, 200, 207 , 208, 209 
DAY, CLARENCE, quoted, 94 




death, 122, 123, IZi 138, 143, 150, 

153, 156 
DE LAGUNA, GRACE, 21; quoted, 

35, 38 

denotation, 26, 50, 51, 52. 53, 6IfF, 

63, 81, 93, 108. 112, 194 
DENT, E. J., 193n 
design, 169 

DEWEY, JOHN, 21, 70; quoted, 

diagram, 57, 59 
discourse, 54. 76, 78, lU 

logic of, 54 
DTSSEREN.S, CH. M., 172ii 
dissoiiHTice, 166 

DIXON, ROLAND, 139, 149n^l50n, 

lS8n; ciuoted, 139, 152, 153 
DONOVAN, ]., 105, 108; quoted, 

105, 106, 107 
drama, 131n, 146, 150, 160, 170, 206 
dream, 29, 30, 83, 103, 116, 121, 122, 

139, 140, 143, 144, 145, 147, 159, 

162, 163, 168 
D'UDINE, JEAN, 210n; quoted, 

183, 184 

DURKHEIM, EMILE, quoted, 134, 

eating, 126, 127, 130 

ceremonial—, 38, 130, 133, m 
ECKERMANN, I R, 169n, 197n 
EGGAR, K., 167n 
ELIOT, T. S., 212 
ELSTER, A., J67n 
emendation, 1 H 

emotive theory, 17111, 177, 180, 181, 

empiricism, 9, lOff, 15, 16, 19 
"empractic" speech, 110, 111, 112, 

enyisagement, 143, 164, 232 
epistemology, 16. 41, 216 
experience, 30, 79, 80, 81, 92, 101, 
110 120. 144, 164, 186 

aesthetic 89, 90, 168, 214 

animal, 72 

— as a generative Idea, 9, 13 
continuity of, 228 
formulation of, 3, 4. 71, 72 
"horizons of — 2. 3 
transformation of, 36, 39, 40, 41, 

exposition. 111, 112, 114 
expression^ 69, 78, 100, 114 

artistic, 209 

logical, 123, 176, 180 

— of feelings, 67, 6S 

—of ideas, M, 59. 164, 165, 166, 

self-, 123^ 140, i/J. 174, 175, 176, 
179, 1^0, 1§1, 182, 2^5 
fact, lOff, 13, 14, 15, 16, 26, 64f, 71. 
79, 146, 164, 217-2^7 passim 
atomic. 63, 68, 221 
historical, 223-225 passim, 235 
significant, 109, 157 

fairytale, 141, 142, 143f, 145, 147. 
150, 154 

fantasy, 5, 7, 81, 83, 100, 118, 119. 
120, 122. 139. 140. 141, 144, 146. 
150, 157. 158, 159. 160, 161, 162, 
163, 164. 167. 168 
feeling, 75, 79, 8lf, 100, 123, 124. 
fc5, 166, 180 
see also expression 
blind, 70 

—in music, 172, 173f, 175, 176, 

179, 184, 193 
knowledge of 179. 180, 190, 196 
morphology of, 19S 
FERGUSON, D. M., quoted, 197n 
fetish. 89, 92, 122, 125 132 
fire, 147, 152, 154, 162 

origin of, l47 
FLAUBERT, G., 166 
form, 5, 57, 60, 72, 73, 73n, 75, 100. 
103. 115, 126. 133, 134, 138, 139, 
140, 155, 165, 169, 173, 183, 202 
—and content, 121, 168, 169, 182, 

183, 190, f92, 209 
correct, 130 
discursive, 69 
expressive, 166, 167 
picture of, 56 
poetic, 160 

significant, 166, 167, 171n, 177. 
193, 19^, 202, 203, 204, 206, 208. 
212, 213, 215, 235 
forms, equivalence of, 66, 185 
formulation, 201, 206 

logical, 79, 18J 

— of conceptions, 96 

—of experience. 72, 79n, 121, 239 

—of feelings, 180, 191, 198 

— of problems, 2 
freedom, 4, 235, 236. 238, 239 
FRERE, W. H., quoted, 13In 
FREUD, SIGMUND, 30, 40, 41. 

FROBENIUS, LEO, 37, 38; quoted, 

FRY, ROGER, 195, quoted, 166. 

2l6n, 230 
function, logical, see logical structure 

—of terms, 45, 46, 54 
FtJRNESS, W. H., 95; quoted, 84, 
95n-96n, 97n 

GARNER, R. L., 84n 
GATEWOOD, ESTHER, 172n, 186 
GATZ, F. M., 170n, 174n, 182n, 

191n, 196n 
GEHRING, A., 190; quoted, 185n. 

189, 199n 
generalization, 43, 54, 58, 78, 114, 

170, 194 
hasty, 169 
generative idea, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 

17, 18, 19, 116. 225, 2^8 
Cestait, 60, 73 , 79, 89, 100, 101, 183, 

187n, 202, 214, 216, 232 
gesture, 41, 49, 60, 70n, 93, 95, 106, 

124, 1^, i26, 127, 131, 163, 176, 

183£, 236 



ghosts, 141, 145, 147, 150 
god, gods, 38, 39, 122, 125. 132. 133, 
m, 135,-136, 138, 142, 146, 

147, 149, 150, 156, 157, 158, 159, 
165, 207n, 224 

GOETHE, J. W. VON, 169n, 197, 

203: quoted, 197, 207 
GRAF, MAX, 167n 
grammar, 54, 70, 71 

logical, 66 

musical, 185, 188 
Great Hare, 149 

GREY, SIR GEORGE, quoted, 153 
GUYAU, J. M., ifen 

HALE, HORATIO, 86, 88; quoted, 

HALL, G. S., 99n 
HANSLICK, EDUARD. 175, 182, 

183,^ 199n; quoted, 192, 193 
HARRlSON, JANE, 132n, 136, 137, 

141; quoted^ 138. 160n 
HARTMANN, fe. VON, 179 
HEAD, HENRY, 21. 236 
HEINlilCH, F., 190, 193n; quoted, 


HERDER, S. G. VON, 104, 170 
hero, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 

148, f49, iSo, 157, 15^, 160, 161, 

culture—, 147. 148, 149, 150, 157, 

Hiawatha, see Manabozho 
Hina, 150, 154 155, 156 

stories of, 151-154 passim 
HITCHCOCK, H. R., 151n 
Hobie Baker (the cat). 27, 28, 35, 219 
HOESLIN J. K. VON, 184, 209 
Holy One, 125, 132 
HOMER, 136, 138, 159, 160, 161 
RUBER, KURT, ISSff, 188, 196; 

quoted, 187, 187n 
HULLER, J. A., quoted 178, 191 

quoted, 104 

ideation, 33, 228 

image, il7, 118, 121. 122, 133, 134 

144, 176, 214, 2!6 
imagination, 28, 39, 72, 102, 105, 116 

126, 1^5, 141, 158, 160, 163, 193, 

196, 200, 201, 203 204, 219, 233 
frustrated, 237 
imitation, 106, 126, 127, 133, 188, 

201, 206 

insight, 74, 82, 128, 134, 143, 163, 
169, 239 

artistic, 180, 181, 182, 210 

social, 146 
instinct, 28, 79, 98, 100, 104 

myth-making — , 138, 141 

— theory of language, 86, 87, 88 
interpretability, 222 

interpretation, 7, 8, 13, 40, 59 63, 
102, 146, 1^7, 189, 194 
—of music 176„ 178^ 188, 197, 198 
—of poetry, 196, 2l5 
—of signs, 47, 48, 49, 52 
imuition, 74, 79, 99, 193, 205 
ITARD, E. M., 87n, 97, 101; quoted 

JAMES, D. G., 72n; quoted, 20 
JAMES, WILLIAM, Z2n, 101, 222, 

224; quoted^ 170 
JESPERSEN, OTTO, 84n 104, 

121n; quoted, 104, 108, 115 

Kalevala, 161-163, passim 
Kamala, 87, 98, 99 
KANT, IMMAXUEL, 79n, 170 
KELLER, HELEN, 21 59, 96, 102; 

quoted, 50-51 
KELLOGG, VV. N., 99n 
KELLOGG, W. N. & L. A., quoted, 

KINGSLEY, MARY, quoted, 84n 
KOFFKA, KURT^21, 73, 184n 
KOHLER, WOLt'GANG, 21, 90, 

94n, f02, 184; quoted, 73n ^1-92, 

93, 103n, 183 
KRAPl'E, A. H., 159: quoted, 160 
KURTH, ERNST, 172n, 191; 

quoted, 200-201 

lalliiif^, see babble 
language, 5, 20, 21, 28, 42, 60, 61, 64- 
66, 70, 77, 78^ 79 83, Chapter 
V passim. 11^, 117^ 118, 119, 
120. 121. 164. 175, \%, 190, 195, 
197. 228 
—and thought, 50, 95n-96n 
beginnings of, 26, 50, 86-89, 96, 
103-m passim 115, 147, 188, 189 
characteristics of, 76, 78 
gesture — , 27, 84n 
growth of, 26, 110-116 passim, 163 
fimits of, 69f, 71, 81, 194, 215 
logical, 72 

—of feelings 176^ 179. 191 

—of music: 76, l'^7, 178, 180, 181, 

182, 185 
— of religion, 39 
— of sense, 76 
LANG, ANDREW, quoted, 37, 156 
LATIF ISRAEL, 84n; quoted, 99ii 
LEARNED, B., quoted, 91_, 96n 
legend, 144n, 147, 151, 157, 171 
LESSMANN, H., quoted, 158 
LEWIS, C. I., 217 
life, 6 13, 14, 21, 22, 30, 42, 71, 80. 
120, 122, 123, 124, 1^7, 128, 133, 
138, 139, 143, 153, 255, 156, 164, 
184, 235 
eternal, 153 

inner, 13, 180, 183. 185, 197, 799 
mental, 72, 82, 232 
moral, 233 
social, 38, 103, 163 
LISZT, FRANZ, 174, 179; quoted. 

LOCKE, JOHN, 10. 98 

logic, 12, 13, 17. 18. 72, 82, 140 

Aristotelian, 55 

— of language. 68, 163 

- — of symbolism, 176 

— of terms 53 
LONGFELLOW, H, W., 148ll 
LORIMER, FRANK. 21, 99n; 

quoted, 25-26 
LOVEJOY, A. O., 229 

magic, 28, 29, 30, 37, 39, 102, 125 
129f. 152, 153, 160, 161, 162 
Manabozho, 148f 

MARKEY, J. F., quoted 106n, 107n 
"material mode," 71, 74 
mathematics, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 74, 

83, 189, 194 
MARPURC, F. W., 174, 178n. 19) 
Maui, 149, ISO, 156. 157, 158 

stories of, 151-154 passim 
McALPlN, COLIN, 178n 
meaning, 27, 36, 42, 54, 69, 73, 76, 

78, 79, 89, 95. 100, 130, 186 
artistic, 169 

complexity of, 228-233 passim 
figurative, 113, 229 
literal, 54, 67, 113, 114, 159, 181. 

188, 201, 208, 209 
logic of, 42, 44 

musical, 175, 176, 177, 180, 191, 
192, 193 

—of signs, 47, 228 

—of symbols, 49, 228f 

problem of, 16, 42. 43, 82, 83 

psychological aspect of, 42, 44 

— relation, 44. 51, 52, 63 

standard of, 67 

types of, 43, 52, 216, 229 
medium, 56, 169, 209 
melody, 184, 199n, 204, 209 
MERSMANN, HANS, quoted, 197- 
198, 213 

metaphor, 107, 111, 113, 114, 115, 
119, 120, 121, 134, 135, 140, 146, 
155, 164, 228 
dream — . 123 
"faded," 114, 229 
MEYER, KATHI, auoted, 207» 
MILL, J. S., 12, 13 
MILLER, HUGH, 217n; quoted, 225 
mind 7. 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 28, 33, 
41, 72, 73, 80, 81, 89, 120, 146, 164 
function of, 29. 30. 31, 32, 33, 99, 

100, 103, 117, 237 
growth of, 20, 24, 220 
weli-balanced, 235 
mistalce, 23, 24, 26, 29, 30, 37, 38. 

48, 52, 53, 123. 129 
model. 200, 203, 204. 207 

natural, 202, 205, 208, 209 
mood, 100, 171 180. 196 
moon, 146, 147. 148, 149, 155, 156, 

157. 158, 159, 162, 227 
MOORE, G. E., 217n 
MOOS, PAUL, 190; quoted, 189 
morale, 128, 234 
MOKE, K. C, 99n 
MORRIS, CH. W., 17n 


MOSO^^YI, D., 167n 
MUDHAK, E., 142n 
MUI.LER, MAX. 149n 
MURRAY, GILBERT, quoted, 135, 
136, 137 

music, 82, 83, Chapter VllI passim 
somatic effects of, 171, 172, 186 
program—, 178f; 195ff 
myth, 3, 39, 83, ,116, 127, 138, Cha- 
ter Vll passim 
and fairytale, 141tf, 145, 199 
and legend, 157 

name, 49, 54, 60, 62L 64, 65, 77, 8,^. 
86, 97, 102, 109, 110, 113, 116, 
146, 150, 154, 160, 183, 199 
call—, 50 

proper, 49, 50f, 53, 54 78, 132. 
142, 151, 162 
nature, 146, 150, 155, 226£ 
— mvth, 147, 157, 158 
— svmbol, 154, 160. 163 
need. 21, 22, 28, iOff.U, 35. 36, 37. 

39, 120, 121, 167 
NEWELL, W. W., 125n 
MCHOLLS, F., quoted, 197n 
night, 146, 150, 157, 158, 161, 162 
NOACK, H., 17n 

novel predication, 110. Ill, 112, 113. 


novelty, s€e novel predication 

OGDE.\, C. K., 16n, 43n 
OHMAXN, 187n 

orientation, 1, 9, 128, 143, 209, 225. 

234, 237 

painting, 57, 167, 169 
PATER, WALTER, quoted, 209 
pattern, 44, 45, 52, 58, 63, 104, 106. 
Ill, 124, 128, 155, 163, 182, 183, 
184, 185, 189, 206, 207, 208, 209, 

PEIRCE, CHARLES, S., 43, 63. 


personification. 146, 147, 154, 156. 

157, 158, 160 
Peter the Wild Boy, 87, 98, 101, 126 
philosophy, 168, 177, 220, 239 

epochs of, 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8. 9. 17 
Greek, 3, 4, 5, 171 
history of, 1, 3, 219 
of art, 216 
of language, 66 
PIAGET, JEAN, 21. 35 
picture, 55, 56, 58ff, 76, 78, 117, 118, 
167, 203, 206 
logical, 63, 66, 180, 194, 195 
physiological, 184n 
PIRRO, ANDRE, 179, 188 
pitch, 105, 205, 207 
FITKI.N, W. B., 26 
PLATO, 4, 6, 38, 171, 219 
play, 104, 126, 128 
festal. 105, 106 
— theory of art, 29 
— theory of sacrament, 127 
verbal, 35 
pleasure, 166 

— theory of art, 171 



rLOTINUS, 136 

poet^^,^115, 169, 190, 190n, 205, in, 

epic, 159. 160-163 passim, 164, 165 
PRATT, C. C, quoted, 198-199 
prayer, 31, 39, 119, 20? 
predication, fee novel predication 
PREYER, W. H., 99n 
primitive people, see savages 
problems, see questions 
projection, 64, 65n, 66, 75, 117, 180, 
183, 184 

proposition, 54, 55, 64ff, 67f, 70, 218, 

—and fact, 217 218, 222 
expression of, 60 
PRUNIERES, HENRI, quoted, 174, 

"psychical distance," I70n. 180. 181 
psychoanalysis, 122, 140, 142, 167, 169 
psycholog-y, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 70, 
88, 146, 175 
Freudian, 17, 30, 168 
genetic, 20, 21, 25. 29, 31 
purpose, 5, 6, 166, 170, 236, 237 

questions, 1, 4, 5, 18. 68 
formulalion of, 1, 2. 3, 8 
importance of, 1, 2, 5 
new, 4, 6 
pseudo — , 6, 68 
rejection of, 1 

RAMSEY, F. P., 217n 
RANK, OTTO, 142n, 144n 
realism, 220, 224f 

reason, 1, 7, 19, 37, 81, 82, 116, 164, 

1^0, 204, 215 
REID, LOUIS A., 75; quoted, 124n, 

166, 213 

relations, 59, 60 65, 109, 110, 134, 
143, 171, 189 
—among facts, 221, 225 
artistic, 171n, 181 
human, 144, 148 
religion, 28, 38, 39, 122, 123, 125, 
128, 129, 132, 133^ 134, 136, 138, 
139, 158, 164, 21^, 238 
reoetition, 124, 127. 130, 156 
RESPIGHI, O., 179n 
response, 19, 21, 22, 26, 42, 73, 92, 
98, 99, ilO, lli, iH 196, 198, 
217 218 
emotional, 171, 184, 191 
■ — to signs, 227 
rhythm, 105, 125, 132, 172, 184, 186, 

187, 188, 200, 206, 212 
RIBOT, TH., 21, 58n 
RICHARDS, I. A., 16n, 43n 
RIEMANN, HUGO. 174, 177, 191, 

198;quoted. I QOn 

' 1^ %^.^-^^^>^-'-3J9. S3, 103, 


gods of, ^ 

— in mocem societv otAt 

mimetic. 125 ^' ^^*^'236. 237 
KOUSSEAU. J. J„ 104^ 

IS ='3, 103, 

f, 137, 158 

61, 62, 65, 66, 70, 2 i4, ^24; 

quoted, 61, 6^, 6^, 71, i23 

sacra, 122, 123, 124, 125, 141 
sacrament. 130, 134, 138 
SAPIR, EDWARD, quoted, 84n, 88- 
89, 102 

savage, 21, 37f, 39, 83, 84n, 103, 
105f, 108, U2,120_, 123, 129, 
130, 131, 132, 135^, 141, 146, 
154, 156, 157, 161, 204, ll6 
SCHOEN, MAX, 172n, 186 

196, 215 

science 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 79, 83, 
116, 165, 220n, 222f, 231 

—and history, 225 

— and metaphysics, 69, 215 

— and religion, 164, 221 
SEASHORE, CARL, quoted, 175n 
self the, 143, 145 
self-expression see expression 
semantic. 27. 30, 43, 50. 61. 69. 70, 
76. 79. 89. 119, 126, 163, 167, 184 

of art, 208 

—of music, 82, 176. 177, 179, 182, 
188, 191, 192 
sense, 184 
—data, 8, 11, 15, 16, 20, 37, 58, 72, 

76, 100 
—experience, 219 
—knowledge, 11, 276, 277 
— messages, 23, 33 
musical, 205 
sentence, 59, 60, 63, 112 
one- word. 111, 111 118 
SHORTLAND, E., 149n, 150n. 151n 
sign, 21, 22ff, 34, 60, 89, 97, 177, 
201, 227, 230 
artificial, 47 
diacritical, 110 
— language, 23 
natural, 46, 47 
signs and symbols, 24, 30, 34, 45, 
48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 83, 163, 181, 
216, 227 

significance, 15, 40, 80, 82, 83, 89, 92, 
96, 107, 121, 134 141, 144, 164, 
167, 168, 177, 192, 201, 204, 238 
lack of, 67, 94 

musical, 165, Chapter VIII, pas- 
sim. 215 

non-literal, 139 

personal, 145 
signification, 43, 46, 47, 51, 94, 229, 

slang, 115, 229n 

SOCRATES, 4, 5, 6 

sons;, 82, 104, 105, 106, 106n, 162, 

"200, 201, 206, 207 
SORANTIN, E., 188n 
sound, 95, 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 
104, 105, 10^, 10§, 104, 164, 199, 
200, 201, 205 
—painting, 178, 179 



SPAIER^ A., 17n 

speech, 26, 36, 55, 61, 75 , 82, 84, 85, 
si, 84, 9^, 94, 96. 9S, 102, 104, 
105, 107, 115, 117, 198, 206 

SPENCEH. H., 13, !49n 

SPINOZA, B. DE, 68, 210 

SQUIRES, P. C, 99n 

StFBr.mC.. L. S., 217n 

STEKEL, WILHELM, quoted, 168, 

STERN, GUSTAV, 17n, 99n 

Story, 118, 125, 137, 138, l39fT, 143, 

144, 146, l48. 154, 158 
STOUT, G. F.. 84n 
STRAUSS, RICHARD, 179, 179n, 


structure, logical, 42, 52, 55, 63, 83, 
artistic, 169 

grammatical. 55, 111, 112 
musical, 169, m, 184, 187, 192, 

193. 197 
propositional, 55, 218 
sensory, 216 
STUMPF, KARL, 170. 172ii 
sun, 146 147, l48, 149, 150 152, 
153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 
162, 227 
supernatural, the, 147 

— befi.!?. 142, 143, 148, 151 
superstition, 34, 89, 103, 132, 135, 

145, l60, 219 

symhol. 14, 15^ 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 
22, 24, 55^, 56ff, 79, 108, 120, 
1^6, 183 

— nnd object. 51, 60, 61, 76 

"charged,'' 2Jlf, 234 

cosmic, 147. 154. 227 

discursive. 54. 65f, 71, 77, 78, 79 

dream—, 29, 30, l20, 111 

kinds of. 34, 3^, 42. 76, 116, 177, 
183, 211, 212, 229 

lo.5:ic of, 48. 56 

misuse of, 27 

natural, ll7, 122, 131, 155, 230, 

non-discursive, 75, 76. 77, 163 
presentational. 79. 80. Il3, 118. 

15S, 176, 188, 211, 229 
— situations, 43, 63 
transparency of — , 61 
■ivmbohc mode, 165, 168 
symbolic transformation, 34, 35, 36, 
39, 80, 89, 93, 100, 103, 116, 184, 

symbolism, mathematical, 14, 15, 190, 

symboiization. 17, 19, 21, 33 

law of, 131 

need of, 32. 36, 37 
symbols and signs, see signs 
sympathy. 173, % 181 
.iymptom, 24, 46, 61, 69, 85, 93, 103, 

177, 180 
synaestbesia, 100 

taste, 171 

telephone exchange, simile of, 24, 26, 

27, 28, 30, 33, 48 
terms, m meanmg-relation, 44-47, 52, 


TIIALES, 3. 4, 5, 136 
THIMME. A., l44n 
THORBURN. J, M., quoted, 168n 

TOLSTOI, LEO, quoted, 56ii 
TOMB, J. W., 99 
totem. 149, 163 
— animal, 149 
totcmism, l^lf. 135. 139 
transformer, 34 
TREGEAR, E,, 151ti 
truth, 6, 8, 11, ^9, 211, 215, 221, 222. 

,nnd falsity, 48, 62. 213 
artistic, 74, 213, 214 
literal, 164 
TYI.OR, E. B., quoted, 39, 156 

umIer<.tandinK, 20, 72, 79, 80, 81, 116. 
194, 2lt 228, 2^3, 239 
'"impHcit," 210 

musical, 82, 180, 183, 196, 197, 198 
URBAN, WILBUR M., i7n, 70n. 
I31n, 212, 213; quoted, 189, 190, 

value, 5, 6, 61, 105, 108, 122, 123. 

artistic, 165, 166, 194, 201 
human, 224. 227 
practical, 221 
verb, 54, 62. 63, 228 
verse, ife, lOO, 202 
Victorj the Savage of Aveyron, 87, 

9f-98, 101. 126 

vocable, 61 86, 89, 102, 111, 185 

WAG.N-ER, RICHARD. 181, 215. 

quoted, 179-180. 190-191 

quoted, 206 
was'u-15. 130, 131 

VVER.YAER, R. M., quoted, 166n- 

WESTERVELT. W. D., 149n, 150n. 

isgii; quoted, 152-153 
WHITEHEAD, A. N., 9, 10, 17n. 

2L 47n, X 121n; quoted, 2. 

22bn, 235-23^. 239 

70, 218; quoted. 63, 64, 66, 68. 


woman, 15ft 151, 155. 157, 159 
word^l7, 36, 49, 50. 61, 66, 7.'- 
^8. 83. 85, 95, 96. 97, 98, 99, 
102, 108, 109, 110, 112, 113. 
117, 185, 188, 198, 201, 229 
—order, 59, 60, 63, 65, 66 
— tones. 104 
words, and music, 206, 207 

disconnected—, 54. 76, 84n, 230 
portraiture of — , 77 

YERKES, A. W., quoted, 85 
YERKES, R. M., 8?; quoted, 8S, 91.